Friday, December 31, 2004

Finding Talented Writers

Brain, Bone & Other Matter
Poetry and fiction by Cynthia Ruth Lewis.

I want to end the year on an upbeat note; to announce that, yes, there are many overlooked talented writers in this country. This is not a ULA myth or dream.

Discovering their work is an adventure. Unknowingly you open an envelope and begin reading a chapbook. Your mind drops, lost, into the words. Without thinking you say, out loud, "Wow! This is as real as it gets."

Logically I tell myself that establishment literature, the many foundations, agencies, conglomerates, have made a many-billion-dollar investment in finding and promoting writers. It'd be absurd to think that we (the ULA) as self-appointed representatives of the underground, with no funds at all, could compete with these huge bureaucracies straight up. There must be a gap; we can only wait for them to collapse. Then I read the much-applauded work of establishment poetry and fiction award winners-- the "best of the best"-- and read also the words of undergrounders from the crude zeens in the envelopes in my mailbox, and realize there's no gap at all. If there is, it's in the other direction.

Cynthia's poems seem inocuous.

"Although it's true, I do not speak,
I merely breathe, I merely think--
to live my life, why justify?
There's much to me, but privately,
I keep it from the public eye."
(from "Exhibition.")

Simple rhyme, but like any good writer she's setting up the reader for an emotional payoff. Rhyme in this case is the prodding that will take you through the theater door to her play of emotion.

"Physical contact; open arms-- she only wanted promises"
. . . . . . . . . .
"And when it is over, when it is done,
even with their dead, spent weight full upon her
and their seed already cold on her thigh,
the flutter of her heart beating, wings rustling louder
than the fluorescent Vacancy hum--
her dimming halo, no longer a light to guide by,
but still brighter than the flashing sign outside
the window remains, pulsing,
like a fingered vein within the hallowed darkness."
(from "Resurrection at Motel 6.")

This is a poet who understands words and language well enough to create a rhythmn of sound. She understands euphony (a lost art)-- notice the internal cadence and rhymes. An artful use of words-- the words merely vehicles for conveying truth and emotion. They're paint daubs intended to leave, when the poem is over, a picture of emotion.

Cynthia Ruth Lewis in her short poems and honest prose captures the feelings of the put-upon, the overlooked, the ignored, the withdrawn. She wonders in a preface if her work is "too dark; too offbeat." Not at all. What literature needs is writing whose power lifts the words off the page. Undergrounders do this in many ways.

What keeps me on track in this quixotic project is to stumble upon good unknown writers. They affirm my ideas-- as if the universe, having noticed my lonely protest at the National Book Awards (there like a nut with my signs and flying bird hat-- treated like a nut by security and the cops) as reward is showing me the other side of the literary moon; writers who do in fact exist out there whose words outshine those of the glittery rich posers and fakers at Book Award galas.

(Zeen reviews coming next week.)

Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Phantom Unmasked!

After seeing their photos, and learning something about their relationship, I realized Gaston LeRoux based his novel The Phantom of the Opera on the friendship between Hans Christian Andersen and Jenny Lind.

(More recent lit mysteries will be uncovered on this blog next week. Stay tuned.)

ULA End-of-Year Report

NEW MEMBERS. The newest Official members of the Underground Literary Alliance are James Nowlan and Noah Cicero. They're great additions. Their work to date embodies today's underground writing-- and shows where it needs to be to raise its visibility. Both writers value honest emotion and truth above sterile posturing and craft. Their fiction is raw and unmediated. This is the best way to appeal to new readers. (I'm going to also prematurely announce that long-time ULA sympathizer Tim Hall will soon be on board officially. He brings an array of abilities to the mix, as both writer and publisher.)

I'm very high on James Nowlan's unusual novel-- as strong a prose work as written in the last ten years. I see his role mainly as writer. Other strong writers, Noah Cicero and Tim Hall (along with such as Patrick King and Doug Finch) may be among the next wave of ULA leaders, moving their drive and ideas to the forefront. The movement will stay fresh if we can rotate new voices to the head of the ULA dog pack.

We'll be adding other new members to our ranks in 2005. We're growing as fast as we can manage. We're putting systems, or at least strategies, in place to handle a larger team-- ways to keep members involved in what we're doing. We have a reserve of ULA friends to draw on, and will do so as soon as we're able. For instance, if we have an opportunity to fit one of the best traditional novelists in America into the ULA campaign, we will. That's to come.

PUBLICATIONS. While Steve Kostecke is readying another issue of our house zeen Slush Pile, we'll also be announcing in 2005 at least two book projects involving the ULA or ULA writers. There are also, of course, the many individual zeens ULAers crank out. (I just received a stack of them from one of our newer members.)

SPECIAL MENTION: We want to give special props for 2004 work to:
-Yul Tolbert, for taking over and revamping the ULA fan site (as well as for the ULA flyers he constantly designs and mails).
-Wred Fright and Patrick King, for doing a first-rate job with the regular ULA Blog, presenting on it the diverse array of voices of underground literature.

MANAGERS. Our most crucial need at this time are people able and willing to work behind the scenes to strengthen our organization. Most writers and artists are individual-focused. Those who actually create an arts movement are the promoters, producers, and managers, as shown by history-- Ezra Pound and Maxwell Perkins with 20's lit; or the many grass-roots entreprenurial hustlers who made rock n' roll a cultural happening.

TALENT. This is still thought by some to be our weak point. It's not. We have a wide variety of great underground talent to draw on from both inside and outside the ULA. The trick is utilizing it; integrating able performers into the ULA framework. We need to expand in numbers, keeping people motivated, yet we have to become more focused with our promotion at the same time. This will mean different levels of promotion which match our writers' personalities, abilities, styles, and level of eagerness. The needs of the ULA take priority.

POETRY. The best poets in America are in the underground. I'm in touch with many of the best. More to report soon.

TOUR. We're discussing resuming our show tour idea, as a way to spotlight our great performers, and promote our new projects. This would take much work.

OPEN ACCESS CAMPAIGN. We need to expose those mainstream publications who refuse to review D-I-Y publications, and applaud those who do. We'll do this. The days of a meek underground and subservient writers are forever OVER.
We haven't even begun to demonstrate the amount of noise we can generate.

PLAN. Jeff Potter, Steve Kostecke, and myself are meshing a strategy into place. My original idea four years ago was to push one person-- a "Zeen Elvis"-- first, to open the door publicity-wise for everyone else. Jeff has argued for putting out front the group. We can do both-- but we will move in stages. By necessity we have to first spotlight our rawest, most rockin' populist voices, to shock people awake and grow lit's audience. We need to use energy, charisma, and youth, at the same time presenting those who represent the history of underground writing, to show zeendom as a continuum with deep roots among the populace. As we create lit stars we'll move to the next stageof competing straight-up with the mainstream; to represent the new American literature as we bring in a wider variety of writers. (This can be done more quickly than people think.)

Or-- we're taking lit back to its roots, starting over as if from the beginning. We're building from a new, more sensible foundation. Establishment lit is so corrupt, this is the only way to proceed.

ANALOGY. Think of a tall old castle surrounded by a moat, stones crumbling, rot and mildew penetrating inside the structure everyplace. This is literature today. It offers no hope of renewal. We're putting in place the beginnings of a new community not built on hierarchy and exclusivity, with no drawbridge pulled up to ward off people. We want our literature embraced by everybody: Folk lit, as opposed to literature for an aristocracy.

ZEEN ELVIS. In 2005 we're going to try individuals in the role, spotlighting leading contenders. (Send me your resumes.)

FAN SITE. The ULA fan site will be "One Stop Shopping"-- the best place to find underground writing; the first place to discover the News about ongoing literary change. Toward that end I hope we soon put up links to a select line-up of lit sites in general agreement with our philosophy.

Everything in culture goes in cycles. Pop music has plateaued; maybe stagnated. The exciting changes in film have already taken place. Sports has peaked, losing credibility with scandals in baseball and basketball; with hockey not even playing.

Lit, by contrast, has bottomed out, is ready for change, undervalued in society, at the revolutionary moment that will re-energize it and reconnect it with the American people. The ULA is the vanguard of that change. These are exciting times to be writers with new ideas and active minds.

Ask the ULA

QUESTION: The ULA has lost members, and many do nothing for the group. Is this a sign of trouble?

ANSWER: If you're truly concerned, maybe you should join and straighten us out. The fact is that we have over thirty members, with many more to come. (We're patient about sending invites-- want people to first fully understand what we're about.) We've had six people leave us in four years, which isn't bad considering the nature of our campaign. No doubt some individuals are embarrassed or afraid to be associated with us, or naively believe they can do better on their own. More power to them. Those who've left have underestimated this alliance. (The ULA plan was underestimated from the outset.)

I can testify that it's extremely difficult to put something like the ULA in place. The doubts and in-fighting have been tremendous. The mere fact that we're still around four years later against strong obstacles and opposition from the entire lit world, even from some zeen folks, is itself a victory. That we've not just survived, but are growing and moving forward with energy and confidence is a plus.

One thing I've learned not to do is dwell on the past.

Have we made mistakes?
Without question. I've made wrenching mistakes, but we continue our march regardless.

Have there been shouters of doubters?
Undoubtedly. Armies of folks have called us misguided, crazy, and quixotic. We continue to grow despite this.

Have we faced abuse and scorn?
Always-- less now than at first. We've endured every argument, and won most. Had we lost them all we'd still move forward in our obstinance.

I can add only that the Underground Literary Alliance is here for writers, poets, and zeensters to use. Whether they do or not is ultimately out of my control.

(E-mail your questions to Put "Ask the ULA" in the Subject heading. Thanks.)

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Visit from the Crazy One

Writer "Crazy" Carl Robinson (now up at the regular ULA Blog at was in Philadelphia for the day and I showed him around town. (I let him look at all the snobby snooty patrons congregating at the local Barnes & Noble-- one well-dressed chick in particular seemed perturbed that we glanced at her. It was like seeing zoo animals. This is the same Barnes & Noble at which Larry Richette and myself were once asked to leave for speaking too loud. Very genteel.)

Crazy Carl said he wasn't used to drinking during daytime. (I'm supposed to be on the wagon, but hey, it's the holidays. How can one make a New Year's resolution if you're not doing anything wrong to begin with? I was balancing out having been dragged by a friend to mass Christmas Day-- which was cool, even though I was the only person in the place singing along to the songs; the rest of the audience was as dead as folks at a Rick Moody reading. The priest was hustling everyone for five dollars each, but the show was worth only a buck. Nice setting though.)

Crazy Carl and I had an interesting conversation at the local tavern. We worried about how to handle the striking fame the ULA will have in a few years when it's the biggest phenomenon in the culture. Will we need disguises to avoid fan hordes? Special security at our hotels? Quickly available limos? Will groupies be a problem? Will we have time to relax with sunglasses and cigars? There's a lot to worry about.

No Eulogy Here

Unknown writers die every day without acknowledgement by the media; better writers undoubtedly than Susan Sontag (her novels are execrable) but without her ties to the establishment media apparatus. All that need be said about Sontag is that she's a departed icon of the literary past, while the ULA is focused on what lies ahead.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Hamptons Bohemia

This is the title of a $40 book by Helen Harrison and Constance Denne.

Or, Tales of the Ungodly Rich.

It's a story of how the wealthy appropriate everything cool, including the word "bohemia." They're so used to buying things they think they can buy language too.

Earthquake Report

People are wondering if the ULA's Steve Kostecke, who lives in Thailand, survived the earthquake. All I can say is that I received an e-mail purportedly from him (didn't mention the quake) so I assume he did. More news if necessary.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Gossip Corner

-Proof that Neal Pollack is a fraud as a performer is that he picks only safe, uncompetitive outlets like Philadelphia's yearly ultra-lame preppy "215 Festival," the Class D of literary readings; the cashmere sweater set which excludes the top local talent to ensure none of their privileged participants will be upstaged by the genuine article. (Face it: Neal was originally someone's wry joke; that person's stooge.)

-Nice to see cultural Overdogs have belatedly recognized folk music (with movie soundtracks made up of 70 year-old songs). But what about folk literature? The New Yorker will be writing article about Jack Saunders and Wild Bill Blackolive in the year 2074, two grass roots heroes alive now.

-Year's worst literary website has to be MrBellersNeighborhood, which so well fulfills expectations of New York City trust fund poseurs.

-Enemies of mine should know there's a new book out containing a chapter which trashes me badly without naming me. (Full of lies of course.)

-It appears that Keith Gessen has found a way to publish the infamous killed Atlantic article which Dave Eggers squelched. The question is whether it's been edited or updated. Anyone read it? (I'm waiting for Eggers groupie "Don't Make Waves" Maud to address the topic.)

-Speaking of which, Lauren Cerand, whoever she is, seems to be New York City's most shameless literary suck-up. Which is saying a lot, considering how much competition for the designation there is in that town; one million demi-puppets fawning over the lit-gods. (It's like selecting the city's rudest cabdriver. How does one choose?) I mean, Cerand works at it: non-stop groveling, embarrassing to watch. (For truth-in-advertising the blog in question should be renamed "Sycophantasia: Adventures in Crawling.")

-Rumor is the Philadelphia Independent has folded. It actually contained some good articles at times, which were obscured by the paper's McSweeney's-wannabe look and tone. Had it dropped the pretentious smugness and been more gritty, more Philly, it might've done better-- but who knows?
MORAL: There are other players in this city besides the Eggers gang. The McSweeney's appeal always was limited. (Even when done by children, constant showing-off gets old-- "look at me! aren't I cute?"-- even quicker when done by adults.)

A Cautionary Tale

THERE ARE many possible strategies for literature to follow to survive in a changing world. It's not easy to pick the right strategy. One way is to look at failed strategies-- at roads NOT to take.

The strategy employed by classical music in this society is a perfect example of a failed strategy. It's wrapped itself in its elite status, and in so doing cut itself off from the mass public. Its attempts at outreach to the general public are token and laughably limited. The supposedly wise part of its snob appeal was in gaining a large stream of funding from rich people, government, and foundations. Despite this lavish flow of money, it's uncompetitive against forms of music which receive no such dollars.

Finally, it's put its entire effort at creating musicians, and an audience, in academia. Classical music has had a dominating position in universities the past couple hundred years. Every year thousands of competent classically-trained musicians are cranked-out by the academies. This represents a gigantic investment. Yet again, despite this tops-down approach, the position of classical music in the culture, in society, continues to dwindle.

Classical music sections at record stores shrink or vanish, as do sales. Classic rock, a tired genre, fills the radio airwaves, while classical music can hardly be heard anywhere on the dial, except part-time on NPR. In sum, the art has followed a LOSER strategy.

Yest this is exactly the strategy establishment lit is following. The recent black-tie National Book Awards resembled a classical music gala. Master of Fine Arts writers make up 90% or more of the lit world, while their art appeals to little more than 10% of the potential audience. Just as classical music's audience is reduced to a sliver of rich people, and to those many thousands of unemployed college-trained musicians (not enough to sustain the art), so is literary writing's audience reduced to small cohorts of MFA grads. (Who sustain the nearly-unreadable McSweeney's, for instance.) It's a plan guaranteed in the long-run to fail, which is why the ULA rejects it in total.

All those many writers who now scorn the ULA will soon enough be imitating us.

Friday, December 24, 2004

A Christmas Story: "The Magic Jacket"

Tony came into his apartment late after trudging through the cold streets of the beaten-down northern industrial city to find under his Christmas tree in an unmarked cardboard box a new leather jacket.

"Who left that?" he puzzled. His tiny room of a place showed no signs of forced entry. "Maybe there really is a Santa Claus?"

Tony checked the window. The snowy dark streets of the city below, with silent moving cars, looked heartless. Santa Claus! Right. But who had left the jacket?

Tony tried on the jacket and looked in the faded mirror over his bathroom sink. The golden-colored jacket fit perfectly. The gray room glowed.

"Good thing I put up a Christmas tree!"

When Tony walked the streets of the city the next few days, dressed in the golden warm jacket which fit so well, it was with a surge of new confidence. The world wasn't so bad after all! He laughed and waved at people, who looked at him with respect and admiration.

Tony realized that when he put on the leather jacket he became a new person-- no longer Tony Strumski, long-time job-drifting semi-alcoholic failure, but a man of substance and bearing.

"What a gift!" he exclaimed out loud as he waved at a stranger.

That Friday night at the Industrial Bar across from the closed factory where he once worked, Tony sipped gallantly from a tumbler of fine whiskey-- V.O., the good stuff-- with leather jacket perched proudly on the back of his seat. A trampy but foxy-looking blonde came in, gave Tony a quick glance, then conversed with the bartender, who was her friend. When Tony rose to leave a drink later he put on his magic jacket. The woman's blue eyes alit, became curious. How had she missed him? Who was this guy?

"Don't I know you?" she asked. "What's your name?"


She went home with him to his apartment and they made burning warmth having wild sex on his small bed, and together killed the remainder of a bottle of brandy kept under his sink. Tony fell asleep happy, and had amazing Christmas-fun dreams. "Christmas! Christmas! Such a happy Christmas!" Tony said drunkenly in his dreams. The world was a wonderful place.

When Tony awoke shivering cold in his tiny gray room of a sad dwelling the blonde woman was gone, and so was the magic jacket.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Spirit of Literature

The Ongoing Battle of the Spirit versus the Machine.

Two opposing forces in the world since the advent of civilization have been represented by the conflict of the Spirit against the order and regulation of the Machine. Writers like Jerry Mander have written of the dehumanization of modern life. Or, "What profits a man to gain the world but lose his soul?"

We, all of us, are descended from peoples who had a radically different connection to the soul of the world and the universe than we do. Jerry Mander gives the example of American Indians-- but everyone once had similar lifestyles; whether Gallic tribes battling the crushing Imperialism of Caesar; wild Cossacks roaming across the vast plains and steppes of central Europe; darker tribes on the equally wide but much warmer plains of central Africa; or even, two thousand years ago, a band of fanatic vagabonds grouped around the Jewish mystic Jesus.

But always has come, encroaching, capturing, killing, or co-opting, the relentless march of the order and hierarchy of the Machine.

The anarchist impulse which was the spark of zeendom rose as a desperate reaction against the increasing artificiality and wage slavery of contemporary life. (Visions of workers marching like robots into the mouth of the monstrous factory in "Metropolis.") No, we're not ready for our fate-- not yet!

The ULA within itself contains these same contrasts, contradictions, and battles. We understand, I think, that we need to organize to have any independence and leverage as artists and writers, as the monopolization of literature marches on; as the book skyscrapers grow higher; the machine-prose of Machine writers like David Foster Wallace becomes more intellectualized, inhuman, and unreal; as the unconscious conformity of academia and the lit-world captures our minds and obliterates our souls.

How do we create our own machine to fight the bureaucracies without mirroring them? We plan to do exactly that by following horizontal, not vertical, models from history-- Cossacks to American Indians-- where persuasion NOT governance was key, and the wisest voices had the strongest say, the "tribe" moved by consensus, and every individual retained equal freedom of speech. (Not how much speech you can pay for, or how many institutionalized credentials you have tagged onto you.) The contradictory wonder of the Internet is a leveller and an enabler in our fight.

Yes, as we struggle to survive and grow like a sweeping tribe amid the technology of modern life, we hope to achieve a Yul Tolbert sci-fi ideal of 21st Century cooperation. Is this possible?

As do no other group of writers, the Underground Literary Alliance embodies the spirit of literature.

When zeensters make their own publications by hand and send them to friends, they're re-creating the origins of literature.
When poets read their words before a circle of neighbors in dark-lit taverns, like around a campfire, they're re-enacting the origins of literature.

All our members are in some way part of this feeling, from our oldest, Big Jack and Wild Bill, whose words are spirit, organic, home-grown, folk-lit from the mind and heart both-- whose words come alive when they're read in the legends' earthy tones-- to younger, equally untamed talents like newer members Christopher Robin, Marissa Ranello, James Nowlan, and Noah Cicero.

Which is why I always say the ULA is the hope and future of literature.

(More about HOW we'll grow, and who we wish to include-- ultimately, every writer-- upcoming in my end-of-the year post.)

Christmas Card

Originally uploaded by King Wenclas.
Merry Christmas to All Friends, Fans, and Foes! I'm using a photo from an "East Coast Conclave" held last February for Philly area underground/zeen writers (at which a few heartland people also dropped in). Pictured is the entertaining Frank Walsh ducking up front. Arrayed elsewhere are ULAers Michael Jackman, Patrick King, Jeff Potter, Emerson Dameron, along with local poet Mike Grover as well as a NYC journalist whose name I can't recall. Also among the bunch and certainly not least among them is Lisa Carver, one of the top two or three zeen writers of the 90s, who was our Guest of Honor. (Not pictured are others who were there like Joe Smith, Fran McMillian, George Balgobin and his poet girlfriend Sarah, Victor Thompson, Bob Sheairs, Jackie Corley, Will Ratblood, Bonnie MacAllister, and others.)

Your well-seasoned blog host is on the right of the photo. This is my ULA Christmas card for this year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Biggest Lit Fraud of Them All

. . . . would be best-selling author Mitch Albom. His entire pose is fake. Not the least of the fakery are his books themselves, which are written down to the level of 95 year-old people dying in nursing homes.

Moneybags Mitch made his first big fortune as a writer with Tuesdays with Morrie, a treacly compendium of popcorn philosophy that would put even "Seize the Day" Saul Bellow to shame. The only thing Albom is seizing, of course, despite Morrie's warnings and admonishments, is bags of money. Ever the opportunist, Mitch saw Morrie, his old prof, on TV with Ted Koppel, and thought, "Why don't I take advantage of this?" So he did.

Mitch Albom is best known in Detroit for his weaselly behavior during the brutal and bloody 1995 Detroit newspaper strike-- a true eye-opener for me about what our monopolistic economy is really about. Oh, I'd always known, but I'd never quite seen it before in such dramatic fashion.

I was bartending at the time at a rough saloon down the street from the huge Detroit Free Press printing plant which sits along Detroit's riverfront. The men and women who worked in the plant were among my best customers. I got to know many of them well; heard their stories of their jobs; saw the mangled hands of some, and knew the early deaths of others. Working around huge machines, rollers, and inks isn't always conducive to one's health. These people had earned their protections and benefits.

I remember well, before contract talks broke down, the busloads of strike-breakers brought into Detroit from down south; jackbooted thugs who resembled ex-cons. The companies readied for war. The goal of the two gigantic companies involved, Gannett and Knight-Ridder, was to break the various unions.

The pressmen and mailers who worked in the plant stuck together. They were tough folks, not really "liberals," but they had character and believed in their principles. I have many images of that time: the saloon owner putting food out for the strikers and their families; picket signs stacked along the inside walls of the bar; strikers coming into the bar with beaten faces from fights with goons while walking the picket line. It was a very intense time. Someday I'll put the scenes and people I knew in a novel.

Mitch Albom? The top sportswriter, he was the newspaper's star. Liberal Mitch already had substantial sources of outside income, from his radio shows, the sports books he was co-authoring, and so on. If anyone could've withstood a strike, easily, it was him. If anyone should've lived up to the pose he espoused of compassion and the worth of people, it was Mitch Albom. He was one of the first to cross the picket line (not that he ever physically crossed it); the poster boy of strikebreakers. Many journalists followed. Half of the journalist guild members were to go back, all those mouthpieces of liberal values, rushing back to embrace the monster corporations. Of the blue-collar workers, not one broke ranks. Not one. Many of them would end up destroyed. I know. I witnessed it. One reason I espouse The Octopus as the great American novel is because of its truth-- because the story it tells is still happening now.

Last Sunday Mitch had an article in Parade magazine, about his trip to a Salvation Army shelter to bring joy for the holidays, camera in tow. "Look how benevolent I am, folks! Spending an hour with the poor! Me! Mitch Albom! Best-selling author! Look at me! The great and sensitive Mitch Albom!" And all the while the bank account for this ever-busy fraud keeps increasing as he continues bilking a gullible public.

Dense, Difficult-- and Dead

From the 12/16 issue of New York Review of Books.

There's a review by John Banville of the latest book by John Updike, that moldy, most perfectly realized symbol of establishment literary taste. Banville quotes a long and overly detailed sentence of Updike's, then remarks, "No one else I know of, simply no one, writes this well." Which calls into question what the establishment means by writing well. Boring the reader? Constructing ornate sentences nice to admire as museum art objects? This is the art appreciation crowd.

The issue also contains a review by Caroline Fraser of a book by 74 year-old novelist Maureen Howard (one of the newer members of the NY Review's pantheon). Fraser admits Ms. Howard's novel is "this most bookish of books. . . . Dense, difficult--" but concludes it "can be read with admiration." We're back at the museum, caretakers cleaning away the cobwebs and dust.

Finally I'll give you a quote from an essay by Keith Gessen: "In Sorokin's case, the resistance to being readable also followed from his hostility to the very idea of literature."

The lit-establishment's IDEA of literature is hostile to the survival of literature.

Art Weasels and Other Animals

For the past week the "Get Fuzzy" comic strip has had a plot line involving the cat writing a novel. It's been a kind of satire of writers and the publishing industry. At the outset Bucky Katt wanted a $175,000 advance from its owner-- but settled for twenty-five cents. The cat began the book with a list of what it ate that day. very postmodern. Recent episodes had the cat's novel stolen by a weasel living down the hall. This reminds me of zinester Tom Hendricks's long-time battles against "Art Weasels."

Speaking of weasels. . . .

Let's see. "The Person on Horseback." "The Person from Laramie." "Person without a Star." "The Person in the Iron Mask." "Person and Superperson." Seems kind of im-personal, doesn't it? (I hear Rider Haggard's classic She, one of the most exciting novels ever written, is being changed to Person.)

"Person of the Year"? As writers we should be against the debasement of language. Make it "Man of the Year" or "Woman of the Year," depending who wins it, but please, no more "Persons."

Monday, December 20, 2004

Ahead of the Curve

The remarks on the previous post express the ideas of the ULA, but applied to literature. (Not an exact parallel, but a useful one.)

The similarities have always been there. I noticed them when I stumbled into the zeen scene of the 90's-- all around me, an explosion of original D-I-Y writing with more energy and authenticity than anything produced by the mainstream.

The tragedy of the movement is that, while some icons like Aaron Cometbus continue on, many of the best zeen writers quickly abandoned their independence and sold out in ways large and small and thereby threw away the chance of making history. In the mid-90's for instance Jen Gogglebox was a natural writer who went on to get the proper education, the right "training" that has given her modest standing in the mainstream, under her real name, but robbed her of the transparent unaffected TALENT she once owned abundantly.

There are right now dynamic punk writers, striking performers, who have everything needed to be superstars but by some misguided reasoning are sitting in ridiculous creative writing classes which are only going to tame them and destroy them.

This is the time not to be one of 400,000 production-line flunkies, but to make history-- cultural history-- by embracing this genuine movement; by throwing off the mental chains of training, classes, unnaturalness, process, which is all the MFAs give us and have given us the past thirty years until we're gagging on their parade of manufactured wannabes. Zeensters and other independent writers need to embrace what's unique about their art-- what sets them apart from the plastic mob. They need to accept their wonderful spontaneity and raging voice and be proud of their history and its Jack Saunders Wild Bill Lisa Falour underground pioneers.

The Underground Literary Alliance is the first location to find real cultural happenings; the best underground writers with the most authenticity. If you're a reader or writer who seeks big beat verbal dynamic energy prose and poetic excitement the ULA is the place. Stop by the ULA hangout. See for more details.

Quotes from a "Nuggets" History

By music historian Greg Shaw about the original Nuggets collections which first appeared in 1972 and were the impetus for the punk movement.

"In the beginning rock, rock emerged from the streets in a variety of shapes and forms but was shunned by the major record labels and denounced from the pulpits. Its most powerful expression was rockabilly, a demented mutation of country and blues that was practiced by thousands of people, mostly in the South. Only a handful of rockabilly songs made the national charts; the music was essentially underground, local, and decidedly amateurish. Anyone who could pick up a guitar and howl out some raving anthem could add his voice-- and thus a new idea in music was born.

"Before rockabilly, a modicum of talent and professionalism were assumed necessary to make records. A young musician had to study at the feet of a master for years before being taken seriously . . . this, to me, is where "punk" was born. I define punk as a style in which stance, image, and a do-it-yourself approach are virtually all that matters. (If the music's good, too, that's icing.) The corporate record labels have always opposed this. . . ."

". . . they had little access to the mass teen audience. The Beatles galvanized the teen masses into hysteria and inspired other musicians everywhere to grow their hair, spruce up their vocals, and join the party. The result was a myriad of vibrant local scenes, out of which emerged the bands on this album and countless others.

"Few, if any, of the artists on this release would have measured up to the record industry's standards. Each came out of some suburban garage, and each somehow got onto the radio with one monster song put out on a local independent record label and created after maybe three weeks of music lessons."

I don't completely agree with Shaw's history (the Northwest scene the Kingsmen came out of was vibrant before many Americans had even heard of the Beatles), and I think he's himself a tad too scornful of 60's garage band rock. We're only talking about some of the best rock n roll recordings of all time!-- "Pushin' Too Hard"; "You're Gonna Miss Me"; "Psychotic Reaction"; the original "Hey Joe"; "Talk Talk"; and such. But Greg Shaw's comments point to parallels to what was happening in the music biz then, and what is starting to happen with literature today. A contrast is made between mere schooling, rigid craft, and the authentic emotional energy that is part of the impulse to create real art.

Amazing Monday Reports

The ULA is on a string of strong Monday Reports. We've had good ones from Steve Kostecke, Tim Hall, Director Jackman himself, and latest-- one of the best ever-- the current Report by Noah Cicero, which blasts apart entrenched egos all over the place. Not to be missed. (But check them all out.) Only at

The Underground Literary Alliance is the Voice of America Now.

A Quote

From Bohemian Paris by Dan Franck.

"--the average bourgeois citizen didn't have any use for them. He was entrenched within the boundaries of an old order while the pens and brushes of the time were experimenting with anarchism. . . ."

He's referring to the reaction to underground artists and writers in Paris in the early 20th Century. Demi-puppets take note! You're reactionaries who risk being left behind as a different new wave of ideas appears at the beginning of THIS century.

(There's an interesting photo in the book of the slummy Montmarte landscape, reminding me of the shack-strewn urban wilderness of parts of present-day Detroit. What's Montmarte like today?)

Friday, December 17, 2004

Other Literary Mysteries

I know well the thinking of literary sleuths searching for clues about authorial mysteries, as I was involved in quite a good literary mystery back in 1993, not long after I began my newsletter, New Philistine. I had more actual evidence to go by than do the deVere people. I bolstered my thesis with additional "evidence" taken from the person's writings. Extremely strong inferential evidence-- ultimately meaningless.

At the time I was at the bottom of my existence on this planet; living in Detroit's infamous Cass Corridor, drinking a bottle a day. The newsletter was started as merely an outlet, a forum for ranting created on a ten-dollar used manual typewriter bought in a resale shop. I mailed out free copies to zeensters and to literary people and was surprised to obtain a steady paying readership.

The literary mystery I stumbled upon, through information in a reference biography, became a several-month obsession for me (especially after my expose made New York City newspapers). I saw it as a ticket out of oblivion. Not the oblivion of being unknown, but actual personal oblivion; such as, "I'm going to drink myself into oblivion," a favorite saying of mine at the time.

How much can we know about an author from his writings? I once saw novels as true snapshots of an individual's mind. But one has to take into account the writer's willingness to fool and play with the reader. (Shakespeare does it constantly.)

The case I'd made was startling-- and never answered, only squelched. (Even in this, the subject was likely playing.) I encountered walls of secrecy-- and incidentally was introduced by mail for the first time to George Plimpton, master patron of young establishment literary people.

Against the hurricanes of inference and conjecture, hints, clues, and implications, one needs the touchstone of hard evidence. Documented evidence. When I found an additional piece of same indicating I might be wrong, I dropped the matter and went on to other things. But my curiosity about the NYC lit world and how it operated, and what the people were like-- they seemed the opposite of candid and honest-- had been stimulated.

Now-- another mystery. Are there any literary sleuths out there who wish to tackle a mystery more current than ridiculous theories about Shakespeare? Here's one: Find out why Lewis Lapham was fired by Harper's in the early 80's, and what controversy involving his magazine preceded it. (That he was rehired a year later indicates the firing was meant to quiet the controversy.)

The Eggers-Pollack Authorship Controversy

Lest we forget, there was only a few years ago much speculation that Neal Pollack was merely a front man for Dave Eggers; that Neal's now-forgotten and not very good first book (I can't recall the title) was actually written by "The Dave."

The thinking at the time was this: People saw Neal, a buffoonish clown shouting at train stations, scarcely more advanced than Benji the Idiot, and couldn't believe that he was even capable of scrawling his name. (This is how he presents himself to people to this very day.) Ergo, someone else did his writing. Who else but his mentor and patron, Earl of Valencia, Duke of McSweeney's?

More Shakespeare Controversy

This issue is important because it goes to the heart of what the ULA's rebellion is about: overthrowing a clueless literary aristocracy which wants to isolate literature from ordinary people.

When one reads the writings of the leading "hoax" proponents over the years, one sees that snobbery plays a crucial role in their thinking-- to the point of calling the Stratford man "a dummy," "a drunkard from Warwickshire," and the like.

There is no evidence for deVere. None. Nada. It's all speculation; a castle of conjecture. Their entire case ultimately comes down to one matter: Differences in spelling of the Shakespeare name. It's quite a flimsy foundation-- like crossing a quicksand bog on a board of thin plywood.

IF spelling was consistent, as it is today, one might think that the ambitious "Shaksper" changed his name slightly when he went to London, to be more gentlemanly. But even this wasn't the case.

Check actual records, and you'll see that the actor's name, in Stratford legal documents, was spelled various ways-- INCLUDING "Shakespeare," in Stratford. As was his father's, incidentally. In London, his name was also spelled various ways, from Shakesper to Shaxberd to Shakespeare. The Stratford man's will is overrun with misspellings-- Shakespeare's name spelled a couple different ways. (The will, incidentally, has a couple bequests to the same London actor friends of his who are part of the First Folio's dedications to Shakespeare. The London-Stratford connection is well proved.)

What's the explanation about the spellings? The answer lies in not seeing Shakespeare's world through our own eyes. Burbage, Hemings, and other parties to the acting company ALSO had their names spelled various ways. Were they also fakes?

Elizabethan England was in the midst of change from an oral culture to a written one. It's clear, when looking at Elizabethan documents, including those produced by lawyers, that spelling was done by ear-- individuals spelling the way the words to them sounded. (Would this be considered phonetic spelling?) It was the case not just with Shakespeare, but everybody.

Of course! This makes perfect sense-- and accounts, in part, for Shakespeare's genius. It's the very reason that his words come alive when they're spoken aloud. It's how his mind operated when he created his works. They were intended to be heard by the ear, not read by the eye. This is the way their culture operated.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004


Originally uploaded by King Wenclas.
This expresses my thoughts on literary snobbery. (Signs dismantled by NYC police-- who were actually quite polite about it. Oppression with a smile.)

Shakespeare and the Creation of Myths

William Shakespeare was like the way I described him in my first post on this subject. We know this because that's the way Ben Jonson described him-- as a guy who just couldn't shut up. The closest analogy to him that I know of is Philly underground poet Frank Walsh-- a flawed individual who loves to talk about anything and everything and owns a flair and exuberance with words that (sometimes) allows one to overlook his failings. ("Shakespeare never blotted line; would that he blotted a thousand" may even sometimes apply, at least with his prose.)

One thing we also know about Shakespeare is that he "borrowed" liberally from everyone (especially from Marlowe). He could've given Tom Bissell lessons in borrowing, if that's possible. Shakespeare was a great re-writer. He would sit in front of novels, histories, legal documents, and re-write them, adding his own special incomparable verve and flair, bringing the words alive-- adding a vibrant life to the language which has never been equalled. He added insights from his unique knowledge of life and people, but there was hardly anything original in what he wrote (nor even how he wrote, when Marlowe is considered, Shakespeare's great example and influence).

The problem is this: The reputation of this wonderful author, this dynamic character, Shakespeare, for two hundred years kept growing and growing. The hyperbole about his works reached outlandish proportions. Critics claimed for him vast knowledge about the law, sailing, politics (when he'd mainly just rewritten others' narratives). It was said that all the knowledge of mankind since ancient times was contained in his plays. The genius of all ages. The greatest writer ever seen-- a titan standing above mortals.

Then someone glanced at the actual man, the human being who'd written the plays, our flawed and talkative friend from Stratford, England. Could this modest personage fit the legend? No way! It was an embarrassment for his fans to even think about it.

Much the same must've happened with adventurer and writer T.E. Lawrence, "Lawrence of Arabia," he of the legendary exploits. One thinks of this great, heroic person (which he was) and envisions what such a person must look like. A young and blonde Peter O'Toole, just as tall, but maybe sturdier. Heroic physique and visage. At a party people are waiting to meet the great Lawrence of the mighty deeds, looking at the time, wondering why he's late. Meanwhile a mild-mannered little guy is standing among them, 5'4, a bit of a professor, and keeps silent because he doesn't wish to disillusion anyone.

I'm reminded of stories about the legendary bouts between old-time fighters like Gentleman Jim Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons. In the stories that had been written about them in the Police Gazette and elsewhere their fights were extremely exciting, the fighters tearing into each other relentlessly, blood everywhere. Drawings of the fights showed full stands and enthusiastic crowds. Then in the 1960s film buff Jim Jacobs discovered many of the long-lost films of the boxing matches. He screened the Corbett-Fitzsimmons bout in front of boxing writers like Stanley Weston who'd grown up on the tales of its surpassing greatness. What they saw was two safety-first boxers moving slowly and carefully around the ring, pacing themselves, before half-empty stands, the dullness punctuated by brief flurries of activity. The legendary fighters seemed to be moving underwater. The boxing writers' jaws dropped. "There must be something wrong with the film," they claimed.

This is something of the feeling Shakespeare fans experienced when they thought about the real Shakespeare. No, he couldn't have been this petty and insignificant man from Stratford. He was more sensitive and noble. The intelligence of all time was encompassed within him. The fans then began to look for someone who could play the role.

For the hoax enthusiasts, Shakespeare isn't a front man for the Earl of Oxford-- not really. The Earl is front man for Shakespeare. In their minds, when they put the aristocrat out front, in the Stratford man's place, all is well with the world.

Fans are disillusioned time and again (usually in sports and politics) by the failings of their heroes. In a way, it's an inability to grow up and face the truth about people and the world.

I think of the revelatory moment in the old children's movie, "Lili," in which the naive waif (Leslie Caron) falls in love with the funny puppets, yet at the same time hates the crippled, misanthropic puppeteer. Finally the curtain is ripped off, and she sees the puppets and puppeteer as they are-- one and the same person. It's the same way with Shakespeare. His fans are looking for the writer to BE Hamlet, to be the puppet of his voice and imagination. They look for someone like deVere who can play the puppet, but as Lili did before she came of age, forget about the puppeteer.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The McSweeney's Saga Is Cancelled!!

Shocking! Even with two new episodes already in the can.

But my programming department (a hazy and underworked part of my brain) has determined that the main characters of the show, "The Dave" and "The Witch Woman" (Vendela Vida) weren't compelling enough to keep it going. Plots were scarce. Even Special Guest Star Jonathan "The Librarian" Franzen didn't help.

Mid-season replacement starting this Friday or next will be "The Goodfather: The Mini-Series." This is the saga of Hiram F. Moody III (inept son of Don Moody) and his gradual maturation into a greedy and morally bankrupt ruthless person as he fights a certain Don Eggers for control of the lit-world.

As no episodes of "The Goodfather" are yet written (the cancellation was a hasty decision), I'll be interchanging episodes as I prepare them with excerpts from the infamous killed Atlantic article about Dave Eggers. (I hope to retain some of the Eggers Cult as readers.) I still also have the two unseen "McSweeney's Saga" chapters to play with. (But let's face it: After awhile too much McSweeney's gets sickening.)

Shakespeare Authorship Controversy

I've received an e-mail from one of those lovers of intellectual games and bad mystery novels who are familiar with the Shakespeare authorship question. Their story is that the man from Stratford was too lowly and venal to have written the plays. The hoax enthusiasts opt instead for the aristocrat Edward deVere, Earl of Oxford.

They should be writing imaginative historical fiction on the order of The Scarlet Pimpernel, ascribing wonderfully heroic qualities to nobles who in fact were in-bred mediocrities. Yes, in the imagination there was a quick-thinking "Scarlet Pimpernel" outwitting the slow and simple-minded lower class rebels during the French Revolution. The reality is more prosaic-- that the king was less than a mediocrity; the nobility not much brighter, and easily steam-rolled by Madame LaFarge types once the king abdicated. Sharpest of all was a venal, upwardly mobile character of disreputable origin who we know as Napoleon. In fiction, the brave Pimpernel saves the day! In truth we have instances like the king's brother, Napoleon's temporary replacement, fleeing cowardly at the mere news the ex-gunnery officer had left his first island of exile. For some, though, fantastical fiction about brave nobility is more satisfying.

It's up to the deVere advocates to make their case. They do so with coincidence piled upon coincidence. Throughout, like obstinate five year-olds, they jam square pegs into round holes. (DeVere died in 1604. New Shakespeare plays appeared for another decade.) Through everything inconveniently stands the man from Stratford, "William Shakspere." Why was this person who supposedly couldn't have written the plays, in London? To be there or not to be there is the question. Documents tie him to the Burbage family and the acting company which produced the plays later collected, without dissent, under Shakespeare's name. The Stratford man was one of the leading figures in the acting company, and made good money from it.

Earl of Oxford people stand on their heads to account for this, concocting hypotheses based on speculation and surmise. The Earl just happened to pick as pseudonym a name almost exactly the same as that of a man connected with the acting company. Pure coincidence! Blot the Stratford man out of the picture. (Also remove the fact that dilettante deVere's own poetry and plays are mediocre, not at all like Shakespeare's.)

The response to this is to claim Shakespeare was a front man for the real author of the plays. No evidence for this necessary. (Or available.) The top deVere advocate, Charlton Ogburn, is the most wacked-out. He sees a complicated and silly plot, like out of a mystery by Ellery Queen, in which the Shakespeare manuscripts, revealing all, are buried not with deVere, but the man from Stratford: Shakespeare-- with clues to the mystery inscribed on the Stratford monument at the burial site. Neither Shakespeare nor deVere would have regarded their plays of lasting significance. Yet, regardless, for some reason one of them left clues for future Shakespeare scholars (a concept beyond their understanding) from another age. That is to say, they left them for Charlton Ogburn! It's completely unbelievable.

The controversy boils down to one word: snobbery. Snobbery, snobbery, snobbery. That the academic establishment sticks with the obvious assumption that Shakespeare was Shakespeare proves nothing. They also don't believe that Elvis is still alive. But 400 years from now there may be a group of inquisitive scholars sifting through enough mysterious clues to insist that Elvis was really Leonard Bernstein, who utilized the country bumpkin as front man. It will also not be believed that the Beatles could've come from Liverpool. They actually attended Oxford, where they took classes in musical theory.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

All About Shakespeare

We're creatures of language.

Instead of high unreachable art on a pedestal, as literary reputation would have us believe, Shakespeare's plays are borrowed hokey melodramatic plots with added over-the-top speeches.

Shakespeare was a yakker, a gabber, a blabber. A blabboholic. He liked to talk. Shakespeare was either writing poetry or acting on the stage, perpetually expressing himself, performing, talking. He loved to hear himself talk, the sound of his own words and voice. That's all there was to his genius.

The truth is that Shakespeare was a hack writer. He made up his own words and had trouble spelling. His first play, "Titus Andronicus," is an orgy of non-stop violence. It's the opposite of high art. Today it'd be considered the lowest of low pointless semi-literate unredeemable hack underground trash theater. This is the key to understanding the real Shakespeare.

We see Elizabethan England through an unrealistic glaze. In comparison to us, here in this advanced society near the beginning of 2005, England was a primitive, backward country. As advanced as it may have been then, its Gross Domestic Product would put it now beneath the most impoverished Third World countries. Its refined aristocrats were scarcely removed from savagery. (How many wives did Elizabeth's father have beheaded?) Elizabethan England was an unhygienic, bloody, barbaric, odorous age.

By contrast we live in a robotic, antiseptic, technocratic time; suburbanized; homogenized. Our most refined theater is presented on Broad Street, or in New York on Broadway, attended by quiet well-dressed genteel products of our clean and affluent civilization. To get the feel and atmosphere of the Elizabethans you'd better go deep into rougher neighborhoods, punk theater maybe in a setting of scrap yards and industry, in nondescript buildings surrounded by packs of roving wild dogs. (In Philly, the Church of Divine Energy might be an apt place, with readings and punk shows held in what used to be a warehouse for auto parts.) Some dirty loud dangerous underclass setting where refined folks would not care to stray.

Boisterous mischievous Shakespeare never attended university, but he loved language and he had imagination. He wrote not for scholars or posterity. His sole goal was to entertain. The volumes of criticism about his plays are misleading. This is what one realizes when one reads and understands Shakespeare.

Critics write entire chapters about inferences; about a line or a word or a hint or a wink. One begins to read or listen to or see a "Tempest" or "Macbeth" expecting a bottomless endless verbiage-filled Foster Wallace-style mass of thick complication-- then discovers a simple play, as are most of them. One can see why Tolstoy was unimpressed and jealous. Tolstoy created vast works of panoramic narrative filled with long ruminations and debates about the meaning of everything. Shakespeare will do the same thing in a phrase, as an afterthought, without intellectualization-- merely an observation dropped in, a witty aside he thinks the audience might like. This is what one has to keep in mind about Shakespeare. Even in the midst of his most hyperbolic speeches he's just being a loud P.T. Barnum ballyhoo carnival barker; an over-the-top hack. It's all a big con, the fun kind, fire and brimstone sound and fury all the world's a stage melodramatic laughing and crying clowns kings blood noise and madness thrown at the spectator at once without reason. The audiences of his day loved it.

It's hilarious to see academic critics taking any of it seriously. Not even Hamlet who spends the entire play playing with the other characters and the audience until he dies gloriously and dramatically was meant to be taken seriously. He's acting.

Some of the plays are outright ridiculous. "Antony and Cleopatra," one of Shakespeare's duds, condenses twelve years and five hundred pages of history into a couple hundred lines; years of events eliminated or skipped in a sentence; motivations and actions simplified; complex sophisticated personages of great skill and achievement turned into posturing cartoons. When Shakespeare tackles a serious subject is when he most can't be taken seriously.

But when he's playing!-- when Sir Toby Belch is devising farcical tricks, or Rosalind and Orlando bounding through the forest of Arden with shouted declamations-- then Shakespeare is in his real style. He's at his best when his characters are stridently speechifying across the stage-- "Once more into the breach, once more!" When his characters resemble out of control lower class barroom drunks pouring forth the contents of their crazy brains and hearts is Shakespeare truly Shakespeare.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Other Lit-Bloggers

Life is a dud. Sobriety at every turn. No escape from the mean-- the ordinary; the brainless crowd; ten thousand trained demi-puppets mistakenly calling themselves writers. Earnest students of medieval scholasticism. Multiplying blogs; comical dreams. Sarvas and Green, their prose ponderous and slow-- performed out of duty not enjoyment. Nothing light-footed about it. Expend 5,000 words making the slightest point. Even their attempts at lightness ("au contraire") are predictably leaden. If this be the result of MFA programs the schools should be closed at once! and save these eternal scholars the task of being chained to their computer screens like Sisyphus-- surely their writing must pain them as much as it pains us.

Disbelievers in Their Own Revolution

THAT historic blogger Gary Baum of FoE Log fame is studying for a journalism degree, and current blog icon Maud Newton is pursuing a MFA, makes me wonder how much faith they have in a phenomenon they helped create. Half their minds are in the future; the other half stuck in the past.

Do they really want jobs in Old Media? Do they think that's where it's at?

Baum was farther along the path to success three years ago when his tales of the "Friends of Eggers" were the talk of New York. His retreat into obscurity is like Lawrence of Arabia signing up under an assumed name to be an ordinary serviceman in Britain ten years after his exploits.

As for Maud, if she's to achieve her ambitions as a writer (presumably with a story in The New Yorker-- and why not? hers can't be worse than the crap they publish) it will not be because she has a MFA degree-- forehead stamped in blue ink by the proper regulatory agency-- but because of the "networking" (massive apple-polishing) she does on her blog. That's how the game works, which she surely knows.

(Please note: This blog post was toned down in the interests of diplomacy.)

The Awards: Not Nominated

Category: Poetry

The Urinals of Hell by Joe Pachinko.

Underground writing is a mixed bag; some of it striking, much of it bad. All that can be said for it is that it's across-the-board better than the National Book Award winners.

I have a closet filled with books, zeens, and manuscripts which people have sent me. I'll never read all of it-- it would take years. (The underground revolution awaits in that stack.) Yesterday I stuck my hand in and chose a book, curious about what I'd come up with. The book was Pachinko's, published by a tiny outfit in Oakland, California called Superstition Street Press.

At first glance the poems in the volume didn't appear unusually great-- but compared to those in the bloodless Jean Valentine National Book Award winner, they're masterpieces: "The 'My Childhood Was Worse than Your Childhood' Award for Poetry, Runner-Up 1999"; "Impossible Cheeseburger Pie"; "I Have a Thousand Mouths and I Must Scream"; "Biohazard Saturday Night"; "Frat Boy Nation"; "Have You Ever Been Hit by an Airbag?"; "The Shrunken Head"-- poetry that's readable, tough, cynical, intelligent, of today, with an attitude, and most important: ALIVE.

What does it say about our official lit culture that this obscure street poet Pachinko in Oakland is, say, forty times better a writer than Jean Valentine, the constant award winner? That there are likely hundreds of poets in America better than Valentine, more deserving (and needy) of prize money and recognition? Can we say that the National Book Foundation is a criminal organization? A fraud? I'd say so.

When I can I'll put a couple of Pachinko's shorter tomes up on this blog. Most are fairly long. I found one short poem that, uncannily, seems to be commenting on Ms. Valentine's work; on academic/institutional poetry in general.


by Joe Pachinko

Chinese playground
on the twilight steep hill
with a tall dead gray tree
standing naked
the wind blowing leaves
across the concrete.
"You want a poem," I said,
"There's your god damn poem."

Conservative Talk Radio: Current Rankings

1.) SEAN HANNITY. Will soon leave his wife for Janene Garafalo.

2.) RUSH LIMBAUGH. Satirist originator of the movement seems moderate compared to others.

3.) BILL BENNETT. Lazy arrogance fits early morning mood. Truckdriver callers make the show.

4.) MICHAEL SAVAGE. Wacked-out and rude, but like many crazy people is entertaining and human.

5.) DENNIS PRAGER. Stiff pomposity masquerading as arrogance.

6.) LAURA INGRAHAM. Nasally phony-populist is an Ivy League skank.

7.) HUGH HEWITT. Political hack who sounds like a boy scout on crack defines one-dimensional partisanship, as do his guests.

8.) MIKE GALLAGHER. Limbaugh clone shows the bizarre results which ensue when you create sheep or radio hosts in a test tube.

9.) MICHAEL MEDVED. No satire, no humor, only feeble hysteria.

10.) BILL O'REILLY. Phony know-it-all said he'd never cave in to extortion, then did. "Bill O'Reilly for Kids": That's scary!

Behind the Curve

The Nation is out with its "Fall Books" issue. Needless to say the books reviewed are of the usual upper-bourgeois and/or establishment authors sameness. Nothing exciting or new there.

(But there are some exciting things upcoming on this blog, including my Shakespeare essay, a look at garage band rock, and a ULA Publicity Department year-end report-- plus the usual attacks and revelations. So stay tuned!)

Monday, December 06, 2004

The Award Winner-- Fiction

The News from Paraguay by Lily Tuck. (The title says it all.)

At a chain bookstore I read the first few chapters of the Lily Tuck novel which won the recent National Book Award in the Fiction category. I also read a couple of the stories in a recent short story collection of hers.

Some might think a novel about upper-class people in Paraguay in the 19th century says nothing about THIS nation today at the end of 2004. They would think wrong. Lily Tuck's novel says a great deal about the upper-class insularity of a literary establishment that would hand the book its highest award.

Lily Tuck exemplifies the literary blueblood. I suspect this is the reason she received the award. It can't be because of her lethargic book, which reads like letters posted among diary entries about people the reader is given no reason to care about. The Lily Tuck prose style is to relate things-- an endless relating of trivial facts and occurrences; like an overlong Christmas card relating the boring history of everything done over the past year. The things she describes vanish from memory the instant one reads about them. I could find little thread or life force holding the narrative together. Presumably one appears if the reader sticks with the book long enough. After three chapters I no longer cared to.

Was Tuck a protege of fellow globe-trotting blueblood George Plimpton? (Lead awards judge blueblood Rick Moody was.) I read the story in Tuck's collection which had originally been published in the Paris Review. (Note Steve Kostecke's Monday Report at on the journal-- hyperbolically paraphrasing me a bit.) The story is the relating of a brief encounter between three rich people, one supposedly a famous author. The "story" doesn't rise even to the level of a good anecdote, as there's nothing funny or dramatic or insightful about it. (The famous writer, male, accidentally glimpses the blonde bush of the blonde female character, and afterward at dinner makes a vague reference to it. The blonde character is unable to come up with a response-- but later thinks of one, in French. That's it. Believe me, it's worse than it sounds. Very rarefied. Her expression of conflict. Methinks Ms. Tuck doesn't live a very challenging life.)

Anyone want to guess the odds that Lily Tuck's story was discovered in the Paris Review slush pile?

Best and Worst Christmas Music

Tis the season to be bombarded once again from every direction with Christmas music. (I once used to like it. Humbug!) Already this year, I can tolerate anything produced by Phil Spector, and the only thing when I hear it that I actually like is the great jazz piano music, slow or fast, from the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, whoever that's by.

Does anyone have an opinion on this topic? If so, let's hear your best loved or most hated Christmas music. Or most loved or best hated. (Click on the "anonymous" word at comments and you can get right on.)

Saturday, December 04, 2004

The Award Winner-- Poetry

The winner of the 2004 National Book Award in the Poetry category was Jean Valentine, who appears to live in New York City (naturally).

Ms. Valentine, a graduate of Radcliffe (sister school to Harvard), won the Yale Younger Poets Award in 1965. Since then she's been given a long list of awards and grants by the lit establishment-- among them, from the National Endowment for the Arts; the Guggenheim Foundation; the Rockefeller Foundation, Bunting Institute, Maurice English Prize, Teasdale Poetry Prize, Shelly Memorial Prize, etc etc etc. And now a National Book Award to add to that.

With all those accolades one would think Jean Valentine is quite a spectacular and amazing poet. Not! Here's one from her latest award-winning collection:


While you were alive
and thought well of me
there was always a coin
in my fish-mouth
off in the night
or the day lake. Now
the little coin doesn't need itself.

I'm looking for great qualities of rhythmn, euphony, rhyme, image in this long and lofty poem and can't seem to find too many of them. The other poems in the book are similarly undistinguished. But the elite have again rewarded one of their own. Ms. Valentine and her friends are content, and will no doubt continue cranking out more unremarkable verse to ensure America's poetry scene remains dead.


I regularly receive more interesting remarks via personal e-mail than are posted on this blog. I wish people would express or vent their agreement or outrage here. It'd provide strong entertainment.

I do want to remind folks that the theme of the ULA is "literary revolution." My ideas are expressed through that prism-- often through images (in my head) of workers and peasantry storming the Bastille; the mob against the aristocratic fops. (Think of Moody and Eggers in lace collars and silk handkerchiefs.) And so, when I mention Philadelphia as a "collection of mud huts," I'm not speaking literally, but in metaphor.

Philly is a great, quaint town-- but it's not the equivalent of New York, nor should it be. Nor, thankfully, does it pretend to be-- such absurdity is usually left to Chicago!

Rutgers Recap

I had an interesting evening at Rutgers Thursday-- a provocative discussion. I can't say I was at my best. I tried to cram too many ideas and anecdotes into a three-hour time span. It didn't quite come off. I also lost half my audience when I took on MFA programs. Understandable, given the context!

Jackie Corley, who's personable and intelligent, was a good addition, and made many points (as did students) I'm still mulling over. The chief idea of any such event is to give one things to think about afterward. I hope this was accomplished.

I liked the Rutgers campus. Benjamin Batorsky did a first-rate job of organizing the affair (and asked many first-rate questions). This was my first visit to Rutgers. I hope it won't be my last.

Friday, December 03, 2004

The McSweeney's Saga: Competing with Eggers


As the McSweeney's gang takes over what's left of the publishing establishment-- using joint projects to merge with Random House, Houghton-Mifflin, all the rest. . . .

. . . as in a sign of Protest against the San Francisco Cult the National Book Awards nominates as many New Yorkers as possible, to keep The Dave from sweeping every award, as the Cult wanted. . . .

. . . one wonders, how did this so quickly happen? Was there no attempt at the outset by the book corps to compete with the guy, before opening all doors to him, rolling over and playing dead?

Actually, there was a major attempt back in 2000, when the conglomerates realized they were so decrepit they couldn't compete even with whiny insipid faux-hip memoirish journals which gave at least the simulation or the possibility if not the reality of being alive. The fatcats pooled their ideas and resources to come up with ONE writer who could face-off against The Dave on his own terms.

Five months later after countless costly expense-account Manhattan power lunches the well-staffed Search Committee had found a candidate. A summit meeting was called, held in a huge oak-panelled room in a secret location at a private estate in the woods, attended by the heads of the Big Five media conglomerates. "Well?" a fatcat snapped.

A nerdy petite woman dressed completely in black, wearing nerdy black eyeglasses and faux-hip black boots, stood and produced a large photograph of the choice. The photo showed a personality-free expressionless nondescript man with eyeglasses, a bookish intellectual, likely nominee to be a librarian more than charismatic savior of a realm. The fatcats frowned as the young woman told them his name: "Jonathan Franzen."

Groans, dropped cigars, shocked eyes and gassy belches throughout the room. "Jonathan!" the fattest cat choked, swallowing handfuls of nitro tablets for his suddenly unravelling five-way bypass. "Please tell me that 'Jonathan's' writing isn't as boring and bland as his name and the way he looks. He appears to be rather-- uptight and stiff. Not exactly the author for which we'd hoped."

The mousey young woman pouted and reacted in snippy fashion, noiselessly stamping the plush carpeted floor with her boots. "That's the best we could come up with!"

The Big Five corps had their million-dollar promo departments devise various strategies to package Franzen as exciting: Jonathan Franzen in tweed jacket holding pipe in den with walls covered in hunting rifles, loyal golden retriever on bearskin rug in front of him; Jonathan Franzen in beret, on motorcycle, dressed like Che; Jonathan Franzen dancing in Parisien discotheque (wearing same beret); Jonathan Franzen in superhero costume; Jonathan Franzen smiling, eyeglasses tilted rakishly, while holding tropical drink as he sits surrounded by babes on an island in the Caribbean. None of the strategies worked.

(To be continued.)

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Literary Cities: Provincialism

I wish a few local Philly writers could've made the trip with me to New York City when I protested the National Book Awards. It would've given them a clearer perspective on the nature of this nation's literary world.

The mammoth hotel in which the event was held reeked of money and power. The several block area of Manhattan around Times Square alone likely contains more wealth than all of Philadelphia. As for the participants, even the humblest, most "middle class" of them grew up in mansions compared to the backgrounds of undergrounders. They're from a markedly different class from us-- if not from a different planet.

In comparison to the massive scale and hyper-pace of New York City (beside which even Chicago seems hopelessly backward and provincial), Philly is a collection of mud huts. Unfortunately, the literary peasants (I don't use the word to be derogatory) of Philly are more focused either on fighting among themselves over literary table scraps, or scrambling crawling groveling fawningly across the muddied ground in quick subservience to the arrogant nobility of New York.

One of my favorite personalities from history is Vercingtorix, who took upon himself the mad task of uniting the Gallic tribes in the face of genocidal conquest by Julius Caesar and the Romans.

Imperial-minded Caesar-- compelling, supremely arrogant and ruthless-- was a Dave Eggers type, who would appear populist to achieve his goals of money, power, and dominance of all around him. His chief objective was control of the Roman elites. The Gauls were scarcely human to him. He trampled over them at will.

Gaul was a loose confederation, organized in non-hierarchical fashion. Its tribal leaders operated through consensus.

Vercingtorix saw the threat of Caesar and urged the Gauls to unite to preserve their freedom. His right to lead them came because he sought to. While many joined his banner, others, short-sighted, held back because of perceived slights, feelings that he wasn't worthy (mistakenly seeing Vercingtorix and not the imperialists as the enemy), unwillingness to work with other tribes, and simply because many Gallic chiefs remained on the Roman payroll.

Can you see the analogy? The writer today in the face of conglomerate dominance is powerless. Due to our numbers, we could turn that around. The cause is democracy and freedom. The oligarchs are the enemy. I often hear writers-- even bloggers-- wailing "woe is me! I can't get a break" yet at the same time disdaining the Underground Literary Alliance.

The ULA has put forth its banner. It stands planted firmly in the ground. We ask writers to wake up and rally around it.