Monday, January 31, 2005

Zeens, Blogs, and Novels

I have a stack of underground novels to read and review (beginning with Tim Hall's). At the same time I keep receiving great zeens in the mail. The huge advantage zeens have is they're so reader friendly. Their very simplicity and brevity says, "Read me!"

For instance, Underground Crawl took less than fifteen minutes to read. A perfect, relaxing fit for anyone's schedule.

This caused me to muse: What if novels as a literary form have been superceded? There hasn't been an exciting establishment novel to hit the scene in decades. (Sorry, but White Teeth doesn't qualify.) The ULA is betting that the promotion of underground novelists like Tim and others and their more real and direct prose can save the art form.

Still-- the novel wasn't always the centerpiece of literature. Before the novel there was theater and the narrative poem.

It could be that the literary form of the future will be-- the blog! Who knows. It's why I've been trying to maintain an overarching theme to this blog (figure it out)-- and put everything into it; essays, rants, satire, exposes, poetry, fiction. The blog form has endless possibilities.

Jack Saunders's various web sites over the years have been kind of a super blog or super novel.

My favorite literary form remains the zeen. This is a personal preference not having much to do with the ULA. The zeen form simply allows me to be more expressive; more creative. (I like doing my own covers, which may explain my thinking.)

Though zeens (zines) remain today a marginal lit form, they have huge advantages which could someday be exploited. First, the affordable price (one to five dollars). Second, they're inviting, not intimidating to those who normally don't read anything-- the mass of Americans who are the ULA's target audience. Zeens' quirky colorful lo-fi look and crudeness puts off some, but welcomes those who have no interest in "literature" or in massive chain bookstores filled with long shelves of densely-worded volumes; echoes of the dread of high school and college. Anyone who has seen the excitement of zine shows knows what I'm talking about.

Just some stray thoughts!

Zeen Review: Underworld Crawl

A two-dollar price but this slight publication contains provocative ideas and snapshots of strong writing.

"Deviant Reading" is an essay by someone who didn't enjoy the acceptable lit works in school, and like many of us, looked for alternatives. (I started out reading monster magazines and comic books.) I agree with much of what the essay says. Yet I think titans like Homer and Shakespeare could reach more people if it weren't for the way they're taught. The very fact they're icons of the academy takes away any edge. The chief problem with both is that their works were created to be heard by the ear, not read on a page.

Shakespeare's language comes alive when you hear it, or when you speak it yourself. Then it begins to make sense.

Shakespeare never meant his work to be taken seriously. There are gigantic professorial volumes analyzing Shakespeare on bookstore shelves. 90% of what they say is garbage.

"Hamlet" contains malaprops ("porpentine" for porcupine) and a great deal of verbal viciousness. The Ghost; Polonius; Guildenstern and Rosencrantz-- it's fantastic hokum, which is why the miners and cowboys of the Wild West loved it. The Bard is laughing at the madness of the world. Ophelia's death is comedy, yet full of pathos because it's ridiculous. Shakespeare is telling us that life is ridiculous. All one can do is have a beer, laugh, and ride along. Which I'm sure he did much of.

Underworld Crawl contains pathos-- especially the small tale of a neighbor boy picked on by the world.
Two dollars cash c/o
R. Lee
PO Box 1421
Oshkosh WI 54903.

Choire Sicha and Style

BECAUSE most of us were fairly poor, living from paycheck to paycheck, in the calling room I worked in for a few years recently raising money for an environmental group, we callers never asked for as much as we should have. A psychological barrier held us back-- the idea of contributing even fifty or a hundred dollars was nearly inconceivable to us, much less more than this. (Five or ten bucks we could better understand!) Few people when asked would give more than a hundred, even though as we were told the median income of the people we phoned was $80,000 or more. (The organization had similar thinking; anyone giving more than $100 was considered a "high donor," and bothered/marketed more thoroughly, until of course they gave nothing.) I was one of the best callers through most of my stay, yet can't remember once raising $1,000 from anybody, though I raised $400 a few times, $500 once, $600 on several occasions.

I give this as background for having spotted "Gawker" blog overseer Choire Sicha's name on a list of donors to Bomb magazine in the $1,000 to $2499 range. Quite a lot for a casual donation-- on the order of zeensters giving ten or twenty dollars to the Cullen Carter Benefit Fund in 2003. One can conclude that Mr. Sicha comes from money. He certainly isn't struggling.

Which doesn't matter, except that it throws light on Sicha's remarks in the Dec/Jan Bookforum.

Sicha isn't a fan of the Underground Literary Alliance. A while back he got into a heated debate via e-mail with Michael Jackman and myself over rich author Jonathan Franzen's acceptance of an NEA grant, which, if I remember correctly, Choire Sicha thought was okay. (Grant money in this country often goes to those who least need it.)

This is why Choire Sicha's Bookforum remarks are surprising. Sicha calls for new cultural radicals, "--an outrageous, stylish, unself-conscious and unironic art movement." Yet he rejects the ULA's new literary movement. (I know; he's talking about "art.")

The word "style" may disqualify the ULA from approval by such stylish folks. For Sicha's set, "revolution" is just another style; another pose to adopt or ensemble of clothes to wear. The ULA has often been asked about our style. We've had trouble answering the question, because we represent anti-style: authenticity and roots; culture's foundations-- not the foppish trappings of fashionable segments of a corrupt civilization.

The problem Sicha had with the ULA about Jon Franzen had little to do with style, but with our mention of money-- a taboo area. Otherwise Sicha might've been friendlier. Overdogs prefer revolutionaries who are predictable, controllable, and safe; cute beribboned show dogs who can be kept in a cage or on a leash.

Friday, January 28, 2005

H.G. Wells, Kurt Vonnegut, and Now

The class war of the Technological Revolution is the major unwritten story of the past 20 years. It's scantly been written about in novels, and not covered by the mass media, because Overdogs who would write about it haven't been touched by the change. They hardly know it exists.

I wrote about it in 1994 in an essay for Robley Wilson at North American Review: "Detroit: Among the Lower Classes." That the published essay which contained my most passionate writing had zero impact even on the lit world was one factor in my incentive to help create the ULA. I realized writers like myself needed a larger platform from which to address this great and awful civilization.

With jobs across the society transformed by computer technology, the bar of qualifications was suddenly and drastically raised for the average worker. I can testify that those jobs which weren't eliminated became harder, more hectic, the worker required to do more work at a vastly quicker speed.

Millions of decent-paying jobs were eliminated; the lives of millions of individuals and families destroyed. As a result, the industrial working class in America has nearly vanished. The prospects for unskilled workers, for those at the lower end of the socio-economic scale, has become frighteningly bleak-- one reason for the growth of the underclass, which exists today in worse condition and with poorer prospects than at any time since the 1940's. (Even given the millions of people warehoused in this nation's prison system-- people no one wants to see.)

The choice is stark: Compete from Day One by becoming an absolute slave to the technological beast, or fall by the wayside. The mantra of the modern workplace the past decade: "Change or Die." This is not meant by those who say it to be taken metaphorically.

Even shitty $7 telemarketing jobs are now being outsourced overseas. When they vanish: nothing. Revolution or starvation?

Our totalitarian media over the past year has convinced us of a phony split between "Red" and "Blue" people in this country. It's a divide which exists mainly for the Overdogs of the Left and the Right IN media. Their split is on the order of an intramural dispute, a conflict between elites over social mores more than anything. They're still fighting the battles of the debate halls of Harvard and Yale over attitudes toward dating. (On REAL issues, such as NAFTA and the global economy, the elites of Right and Left are on the same side.)

The real divide in this country is between the affluent and the rest of us-- a divide which grows greater by the day. (The fight of the ULA against the Overdogs of literature is a true reflection of this reality.)

One of the ironies of change is that Detroit, the great creation of the Industrial Revolution, has been destroyed by the Technological one. THERE is a good place to view the economic disaster that's been wreaked on large unseen segments of this nation.

It's ironic that I write these words on-line. (Sorry if I've decided to fight; that I've refused to die.) I'm reminded of the scene in Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano when men put out of work by machines eagerly volunteer to fix them when they break. We humans have an innate love of gadgets, even when they make us obsolete.

I'm reminded also as I write this essay of another novel, Food of the Gods by H.G. Wells. Well's novel is a metaphor for the change of the Industrial Revolution. Its quirky narrative captures well the feeling of sudden dislocation and change; the realization that the world is no longer the same.

The theme of the book applies even more to the ongoing Technological Revolution-- and to what lies ahead. Within a couple decades geneticists will be able to change man himself. By manipulating human codes, they'll manufacture people with superbodies and superbrains.

Will there be any doubt that the affluent Overdog class will partake of these Frankenstein benefits-- that they'll eat the "food of the gods," and so leave far behind everyone else, who'll they'll view with inevitable and increasing contempt? America and the world will then be divided not into two classes, as is happening today, but two species.

The result, based on the products of our current Overdog writers, is not promising for literature. A great writer is made not by a giant overpowering brain but by the empathy of a giant heart and the ability to recognize and speak the truth.

Advice to David DeKok About Plagiarism

Mr. DeKok wonders what can be done about the Harper's plague of plagiarized stories; that literary infestation caused by arrogant editors and conscienceless essayists who can't tell the difference between a tree, coalmine, paraphrase, stolen quote, stolen idea, or larceny. To them it's all the same; postmodern thoughts from postmodern minds, words without truth or meaning.

I have to answer David DeKok truthfully that it's a hopeless cause. One might think the literary community could police its own, but it's a community of scoundrels. Ambitious scoundrels who'd sell their integrity for a dime or a yuppy Starbuck's latte, that is, if they had any integrity from the beginning. One searches for it in vain.

One need only go back to the Harper's Tom Bissell essay of a few months ago, where for the pleasure of Lord Lapham Bissell turns his own father into an unbelievable stereotype-- the mad Vietnam vet which as a fictional character went out of fashion in the 70's but has now been revived: 35 years later still wandering the woods insanely with gun in hand and psychopathic gleam in his eye. As bad Victorian melodrama no one would buy it, but the stupe editors of Harper's and the sycophantic lit-bloggers will buy anything.

These literary people are individuals of no vision. They may as well be worms or ants, bugs or fleas. They hold a similar belief in the ability to change things. Cockroaches have more rebellious wit and energy. They claim to be writers-- believe themselves to be (mark of their deluded stupidity). One finds on their blogs long accounts of recycled information but hardly an ant-crumb of creativity. Some are writing novels, people say. It's a sign of their vast conceit if they're writing novels. About what? Their battles against corruption? Characters with backbones? Visions of clarity? They can't write about matters about which they have no idea, have never experienced. They'll write instead what they know: fawning, sniggering, snobbery, cronyism, groveling to plutocrats, defense of dead literary society, corruption of an art.

Writers? These are whores, not writers!
Writing is merely the ready excuse
that's enabled them to become prostitutes.

(But I will write about the DeKok matter next week.)

Now Available!

In display windows of chic stores on Philly's Walnut Street is something called the "broken-in shirt." Designed for gentry to look properly bohemian in apparel-- without having to wear the shirt 50,000 times to do it.

In response, to stay one step ahead of the trendoid pack, the Underground Literary Alliance now offers "the broken-in writer." (Or in some cases the broken-down writer, or others the just plain flat-broke writer.)

Details available at

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Establishment Void

The point to reinforce about the KGB incident of four years ago is that the established lit world is a fake. A cardboard creation. There remains outrage about the ULA's brief intrusion that night, because it was an unwanted invasion of reality. An understandable feeling of protectiveness rose up for the feeble reader against the "bullies" of the ULA-- the protectors couldn't and can't face the reality that the person shouldn't have been up there in the first place! A hapless dilettante, of no skill or talent, as vulnerable as Ophelia; a French-sounding name at a glossy fashion magazine, ready to collapse at the first mild unwanted breeze-- and in the door walks the ULA. What that sham of a reading represented that evening wasn't literature, but the pretty painted cardboard imitation of it. Of course the audience was protective! Writers at these fake events pretend they're literary stars and the audience pretends along with them; a display of make-believe.

The Establishment Void is further illustrated by the Paris Review's inability to find a live personality to replace George Plimpton. There is no replacement available in their world. All that exists at that journal with Plimpton gone is empty space.

A Flower Poem

Poems are supposed to be about flowers,
tulips, roses, buds,
trees and cats and Grecian urns
Soft sonnets sweetly sung,
pleasure's harmonious glow
Life is good, for some

Enjoy! Enjoy! Forget your troubled struggled life
of sweatshop hours
of cubicles and clocks
the waiting rat race'd prison'd world
with windows sealed, exits barred,
doors forever closed
Remember beauty and flowers!

But I don't want to talk about flowers.

-King Wenclas
(From the zeen Hot Poetry.)

Harper's Arrogance

I've been looking through the packet of information author David DeKok sent me regarding the unattributed use of his book on the Centralia coal fire for a Jeff Tietz Harper's essay. Most striking is the letter Harper's Senior Editor Roger Hodge (who was also Tom Bissell's editor on his disputed essay) sent to Mr. DeKok's attorney. The letter's tone illustrates the aristocratic attitude of those of power on the lit scene. It's very condescending. (The New York Observer columnist who wrote about this matter noted Hodge's tone also.)

Harper's pretends to stand for an egalitarian viewpoint. There's little trace of egalitarianism in those who run the magazine-- only elitism and snobbery. This is the problem with much of the lit-world, of course. They pose as liberals while taking all the benefits they can grab from the most elitist aspects of this society-- such as an Ivy League education, and the networking possibilities that opens for these people. Or, all is the pose, not the reality.

Roger Hodge is still operating with the attitudes of the closed lit world of days past, when an editor could treat writers in any kind of arrogant way. But now there are places like this one willing to call him on such treatment. Hodge doesn't grasp the changed circumstances of media-- that writers are gaining more leverage in the relationship-- and beginning to use it.

Harper's of course is a relic of the past; quaint and stodgy, without a shred of excitement in any of its pages. With people like Hodge in charge, it will have difficulty changing.
(The ULA: love us or hate us, we have 50 times the vitality.)

I plan to have my report on the Jeff Tietz plagiarism matter up on this blog by next week. I'll have links to the Observer piece, some Hodge quotes, and anything else necessary. Keep watching!

Lit Journal Report: How Not to Write Fiction

Philadelphia Stories, Winter 2004-2005 Issue.

The New York Times recently pointed out there are now over 1,000 small literary publications in the U.S. The Times didn't mention that the overwhelming majority of them completely suck. Their purveyors follow the conformist specified university production-line rules. That there are so many lit-mags, so much competition, should tell the individual writer or publisher two things. 1.) Find a way to stand out. 2.) You can't make it alone.
The ULA answers both points.

On the other hand we have Philadelphia Stories, a free literary journal backed by local rich people. Its purpose is for these patrons to list their names in the back as supporters of arts and literature. The contents are extra-- stale frosting covering the true reason-for-being.

This issue contains truly horrendous poetry (poor prose broken up into separate lines) along with lukewarm stories. The stories are overwritten. They take forever just to get going, because, first, the writer has to demonstrate he can "write" in a literary way. I'd guess 95% of the free copies end in a trash bin before the reader gets past the first page.

I'm not advocating Ray Carver literary minimalism. (Which doesn't look so bad anymore; bring back Amy Hempel and Susan Minot!) I merely suggest chopping out the extraneous added garbage-- about 70% of each story. Slow paced? The stories are glacially paced. This doesn't any longer work. I'm not sure it ever did.

(Knowledge of the world and people clearly expressed through observation can hold a reader through stage setting. Few writers today qualify.)

(More info for PS is at

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

About KGB

Funny that people still remember that event. I wonder why?

If I had my choice of being anything in this world, I'd be a Shakespearean actor, simply because I love standing amid a crowd giving a speech. Of course I've read up on what performances at the Globe were really like. Crowds did not sit catatonically, but were engaged in byplay with the actors they surrounded; the shouts, heckling, shocked reactions and thrown peanuts all part of the show. Literature had teeth in those bygone days.

Five of the original Six members of the ULA, with NYC journalist Annia Ciezadlo in tow, showed up at KGB one Sunday night to give an impromptu performance to let people know what we were about. We were there a grand total of ten or fifteen minutes. It was great fun, one of the highlights of our history as an organization.

That simple "reading crash" illustrated then and for all time the difference between the status quo and what the ULA stands for. What we saw was a crowd of the gentry "appreciating" the most godawful sterile dull "performance" ever witnessed; the polite comfortable affluent people sitting like tame pets as if at a church service-- which for them is exactly what it was. The Vanity Fair editor who was reading has little talent as a writer and ZERO ability as a reader-- staring down mumbling in a monotone her precious story about vacation in France, or something similarly irrelevant and precious. (We were hoping Rick Moody and friends would be there.) There was no life in the room. THIS-- these kind of readings, are exactly what are killing literature in this country because they tell the world there's no life in literature itself-- and there isn't, if it's to be judged by these folks and by their enervated works.

So, we gave a free performance; some brief ULA Theater. For me, it was an opportunity to let my voice out just a trifle-- when Ms. Sterzinger, Mr. Bassett, and Mike Jackman had done their thing and then the balloon popped and the crowd demanded we be removed and I got off my barstool, stood in the center of the room and asked, "Who's going to remove us?" and pointed to pet after pet and said, "You? Or you?"

I was the first person out the door and so missed Jackman's impromptu speech, which I heard afterward was pretty good. The rest of the gang came down in stages where I waited outside on the sidewalk; that's when I uncorked my voice full out at the bouncers-- I'm sure it was heard in the room above-- while an Ivy League jock who'd followed us downstairs tried to give Michael the "jock push." Michael just puffed on a cigarette and laughed at him.

Theater, that's all it was. If Ms. E.S. had any ability whatsoever as an entertaining reader she would've waved at us and laughed. Instead, she froze. I've been heckled many times when reading. It's when I'm at my best-- when I can really get into my words. For E.S., it was potentially a learning experience-- and she blew it, maybe because as a talent she blows.

All you saw that evening, Anonymous, was a contrast between genteel posers and the genuine article.

The ULA's evening ended at the International Bar with a couple out-and-out brawls between us. (The early ULA saved all its most intense and violent fights for ourselves.)

A Cavalcade of Clowns

The dispute over the Bissell plagiarisms has given me enough material for my blog for months-- should I choose to use it.

I could begin with the idea that a writer, Galley Cat, would actually censor herself-- putting lines through her own words. I still find that amazing. Public self-flagellation. I'd think she'd rather put such talent to use for the FBI or CIA! She's a walking Patriot Act.

Someone else who should likewise get a job in government is Daniel Radosh, who's so artful at bureaucratic hair-splitting, his rationale in effect saying,
"It's not really plagiarism, even though it looks like plagiarism, because we in the journalistic community have decided there is no longer such thing as plagiarism. We've defined it out of existence"-- which could easily turn into "The President tip-toed up to the line of lying, but did not actually cross over it."
I especially like his use of the word "uncomfortable." The word is a masterpiece of obfuscation which should be sent immediately to Washington.
Confirmation hearing at which a litany of problems are related. Photos of various are shown (prison torture, bombed civilians, sex with interns-- take your pick.) Response: "Er, ah, we're uncomfortable with that."
It's a perfect word because it doesn't commit the person who uses it to anything, either way. It's meaningless-- ideal for any situation.
"Dean Radish, we have evidence of your professors having sex with students."
"Uh, we're uncomfortable with that."
"Coach Radish, the alumni gave your quarterback a new car!"
"We're uncomfortable with that."
"Chief Executive Radish, the pension fund is empty, $50 million was spent renovating your condo, the FBI has charged your assistant with embezzlement and mail fraud, the stock price is plummeting; costs are up and sales down; you've run this company into the ground."
"We're definitely uncomfortable with that."

Then there's the lit-blogger who believes that, instead of creating an alternative to the current lit system, we should instead be "fucking shit up from the inside."
Okay, but what exactly does that mean? Stealing boxes of paper clips? Unauthorized use of the copy machine? Giving book contracts to your buddy's 14-year-old daughter, or to untalented Ivy League drinking-buddy friends?
Does it simply mean being a fuck-up inside the system, like Tom Bissell or Morgan Entrekin?
I can see it now-- disgraced priests explaining that they were just "fucking shit up from the inside."
Or George W. at the inevitable impeachment hearing:
"I was just fucking shit up from the inside."

Writers and editors have been fucking-up inside the system for the last forty years and it hasn't exactly benefitted literature.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Understanding the Herd

"I never truckled. I never took off the hat to Fashion and held it out for pennies. I told them the truth. They liked it or they didn't like it. What had that to do with me? I told them the truth."
-Frank Norris

Back in the early 70s, Richard Nixon ended the draft and "Vietnamized" the war, based on his knowledge of the American psyche. Take the views of carnage off television screens and the populace would once again become complacent. He knew they weren't against war, carnage, domination and exploitation per se; they just didn't want to have to think about it.

Such is the major impetus behind anti-war outrage now for many affluent people. They want the war off their TV screens because it forces them to think about the brutal nature of American civilization. It gives them hints about the source of their affluence. (Cheap gasoline, anyone?)

I see a similar mentality at work with the lit-world herd. Many willfully avoid the ULA's fan site and the information given every week in our "Monday Reports," because the revelations might force these writers to have to think. Just as Kerry and those running his campaign didn't want to change the inequities of this society (only apply band-aids along the margins), so do many writers not want to alter the inequities and corruptions of literature. Change is disconcerting. They'd rather cling to the system they have.

STRIKING about last week's dust-up was the way peer pressure worked on many lit-bloggers. Starkly amazing was the 180 degree switch in opinion some of them went through over the nine plagiarism examples. The examples themselves didn't alter a bit-- and still haven't. Extraneous matters such as the ULA's previous battle with Bissell (which I thought was common knowledge-- and was ALLUDED TO in the opening lines of the e-mail I sent out) didn't change one iota the matter at hand. Yet the way the herd viewed those nine examples switched dramatically, as if their 1984 hate screens told them Eurasia was now the enemy and not Eastasia. They seemed to lose control of their own minds.

The herd dictated their opinion. Once Maud came forth with her views, and in effect TOLD THEM WHAT TO THINK, the debate in their heads was over, as Maud represents the voice of the herd. As I said, she never deviates, is never "wrong" in her judgement of which are safe targets on the lit scene and which are not.

Lit-bloggers showed sudden explosive anger when put on the spot-- when I listed three of their names. This was a trigger, because it said they were to be forced to address an uncomfortable matter; to use their minds, take a stand, engage their consciences, have an opinion-- and thus their anger at me for forcing them to do so. There's no question as to what Bissell did-- it's there in black and white. All one has to do is read the words. (You can scroll down and try again.)

But the matter had already been ignored for too long, and cut too close to the very nature of the lit-world. The lit-bloggers searched for any excuse they could find to say this wasn't plagiarism-- side issues involving the ULA's perceived flaws-- because if it wasn't plagiarism, their consciences would be eased, their pose as progressive angels sound, their lit world a place of harmony and fairness-- all would be right in their bubble of a universe.

With their outrage at my breach of protocol, their masks dropped and their true opinion of us and the classes below them came out. They hurried to link to past blog posts which labelled the ULA as neanderthal know-nothing morons.

(Why the working class is reluctant to support "liberal" politicians: We sense their true contempt for us, and the fact that at crunch time they invariably sell us out. Examples available upon request.)

The bulk of bourgeois lit-bloggers scorn the ULA and its writers for our non-genteel nature and the gritty honest authenticity of our poems and prose-- as they wear their Kerouac and Scott Fitzgerald t-shirts and drink from their Dostoevsky and Shakespeare coffee mugs (writers who were either notorious misspellers or notably unpolished). (Note: Bukowski still hasn't become "hip" enough for this crowd.) The contradiction will never register.

Demi-puppet brains were engaged for three days-- unfamiliar and dangerous territory (frightening terrritory)-- then their brains began shutting down across the board. Notes went up on their blogs one after another, "This is the last I'll say about the matter"; "This is my final post about this"; "I'm not going to name those people." Metaphorical lights seen turning off as portions of brains throughout demi-puppet land began closing.

(I'll wager you won't see them on these threads again. The word has gone out to them. Disputing with the underground is too risky. They might become contaminated. Look at Galley Cat! She's probably undergoing re-education sessions as I type this.)

There wasn't a shred of objectivity in the demi-puppet blog posts about the Bissell matter. The side they took was predetermined-- they looked for arguments to fit their viewpoint.

They can answer that I wasn't objective either. I'm sure I wasn't. I'll gladly admit it. Then again, I could've easily taken Bissell's side in things, to get right with the proper crowd. He sucked-up to me via e-mail right after The Believer article came out (as he does to anyone he perceives has some power), and indeed, did so in the article itself. Wouldn't it make sense to get along with Bissell, Franzen, Eggers, and the rest; to "go along to get along"? This is how any demi-puppet would play it.

But the ULA does not consist of demi-puppets.

Why Writers Have No Rights

Note that no literary Insiders-- Eggers, Franzen, Birkerts, the billionaire-run Harper's, or Bissell himself-- jumped into last week's fray. They have no need to when there exists a layer of loyal retainers, wannabes, and servants always ready and willing to act against their own interests by defending the literary establishment. (With an anonymous publisher urging them on.)

In the present System, writers and artists have no power, are mere hat-in-hand supplicants begging for the door of access to open. Literature in their world is like an exclusive Manhattan nightclub. At the entrance stand burly doormen deciding who is fit to gain entrance-- usually the already rich, famous, and known. The rest of the crowd remains beneath notice.

In the ULA, writers and artists are in charge. We've eliminated the hierarchies between publishing-decision-makers and writer. In our world, the writer is at the top of the food chain-- not at the very bottom of an enormous pyramid.

Yes, we're not fans of Tom Bissell (whose attitudes were hardened by working for the monopolistic conglomerates) because he's shown in his statements his contempt for D-I-Y philosophy and for the existence of underground writers. What, then, should be our attitude toward him?
Worth laughing at is the mock outrage being shown by Mark Sarvas and others over the notion that the ULA had an axe to grind going into this matter. These are folks who've attacked the ULA and its writers time and again before I or anyone else in the ULA had ever heard of them. (As of course did Maud Newton.)

From where came their axes and vendettas? Where was their sense of fair play THEN??

Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Embrace of Mediocrity

"A born writer, because he was spontaneous and impulsive. . . ."
-Regis Debray

Daniel Radosh's points about the Bissell plagiarism case (link given on a recent post's Comments below) are not only the worst kind of convoluted excuse for the corruption of his profession, they're also unbearably dull. They show the mindset of an apparatchik, practicioner of an enfeebled art.

Some ULAers may sometimes fail. At some point maybe we all do. But we're always original, impulsive, different, new, noisy and rabble-rousing, doing everything in our power to keep from being "caught" within aesthetic stylistic or intellectual boundaries like caged zoo animals. We don't want to sound like everyone else, and we don't.

In the Bissell affair Radosh is the other lawyer-- the colorless law partner sitting quietly at the defense table like a figurehead, having written a 500-page summary of the case none of the other defense counsel have bothered to read, but they humor him anyway while he sits smugly watching their antics botch the case (having Bissell arrive in the courtroom dressed like a clown was a bad idea), and says to himself, knowingly, "I could've won it!" If only he could've read his 500-page summary to the courtroom it would've dazzled everybody. Fortunately for him he didn't, which keeps intact his illusions.

To those who want the ULA to bring in MFAers, I point to the journalistic mindset as represented by Daniel Radosh and say, "This is what happens when you professionalize an art." You get not the natural talents-- not the Zolas shouting with impassioned polemics, "I Accuse!"-- but instead the time-markers and ticket-punchers, the credentialed crowd who got their credentials by sitting on hard asses long enough within constricted temples of dullness. In Radosh's thoughts one sees consternation and smugness, but no life; no passion.

These kind of demi-puppets (not all are so bad) are advocates of Bissell because they so well understand him; the person for whom literature is a career, the works themselves the inconvenience necessary to justify progress up the career ladder, along with other necessary evils such as brown-nosing. (Everything else is secondary-- even one's integrity-- to this goal.) For Bissell, writing an essay is not a joy or compulsion but a task; a duty he hopes to get over with as quickly as possible (like the ten minutes spent investigating the ULA for his Believer article), by finding shortcuts wherever he can. His essays aren't meant to present original writing (but isn't this what Harper's subscribers pay for?), but to obtain another credit for his career file.

Can you imagine Victor Hugo or Emile Zola having to borrow language from another's book! The idea is ludicrous. They valued their OWN words.

But these men were real essayists, natural writers, spigots of flowing talent, not apparatchiks.

A Paris Review Mystery

Whatever happened to James Linville, long-time Paris Review #2? If anyone should take over as editor, it should be him.

Last I heard of him, he was in London. Doing what?

Then there's this from a February 16 article in the American Conservative, "An American in Paris" by Richard Cummings:

"James Linville, the former managing editor of the Paris Review, who confirms that 'the Paris Review was Peter Matthiessen's cover for the CIA,' says that Matthiessen is 'haunted by the CIA.' His name remains on the masthead as an editor."

The Paris Review Problem

(For Added Background, see my "Open Bar, Open Debate" essay at

The Paris Review Problem is the same one which afflicts the static enervated in-bred establishment lit world as a whole-- a lack of new ideas and new blood. (Their idea of new blood is to import properly screened homogenized and tame conformist MFA writers from Iowa.)

The Paris Review always was a wannabe knock-off of the Lost Generation. Always it was a one-man operation.

The Paris Review has a platform in the culture but they'll never find anyone who'll know what to do with it. The Money People behind the publication will likely choose someone they're comfortable with-- another Money Person like Rick Moody-- and it'll slowly drift further into irrelevance and obscurity. They should shut the relic down and let it take its place in literary history.

Literature should be NEWS. The only news in the lit world now is the Underground Literary Alliance. We're filled with new ideas and we're swiftly enlisting the best underground writers into our ranks. Kick-ass underground novelists like Tim Hall, Noah Cicero, and James Nowlan are some of our most recent additions (with more to come). We'll soon add the best underground poets in America to those we already have. Loud striking energetic dynamic talent is coming to US. (And yes, we'll have more women writers-- but no Galley Cats; no self-abasing self-censoring political-game-playing boot-polishing WIMPS.)

If the Lost Generation of undergrounders Stein McAlmon Hemingway Pound were alive today, they'd be with us.

As the Paris Review couldn't stand up to us in 2001, less can any status quo collection of conformist posers do so now. We're moving while the rest of the lit world cluelessly has their feet embedded in the ground.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Assessing the Demi-Puppets

A Gallery of Embarrassment.

The biggest loser in our three-day test of lit-blogger behavior, for abjectly adopting the party line and censoring her original blog post on this topic. (Her first post, true to her own opinion, was more accurate.) The lines through her words say it all. A degrading performance.

The floundering mag once again put itself above accountability and response. We also found that Tom Bissell ("a fine journalist" --Mark Sarvas) is not the only Harper's essayist accused of plagiarism.

Unwilling to condemn or defend Bissell, or comment on the matter at all, this public intellectual isn't very public. The Bissell essay Birkerts published in Agni (current issue) stands as something very bizarre.

4.) TOM BISSELL ("a fine journalist" --Mark Sarvas):
I don't see how anyone can argue that Bissell is not, at best, a lazy essayist and paraphraser of another's work.

Always predictable, this finesse operator lawyer. Her "jokes" defense of Bissell is in shambles. That her blog is not in any way an alternative to the establishment lit world; that it offers nothing new in ideas or content, is the point to make here-- though one can respect its consistency: the undeviating establishment party line.

Bissell's reputation ("a fine journalist" --Mark Sarvas) will only skyrocket. Not because he was cleared of unethical, questionable, or inept behavior as a writer-- but because he wasn't. Key demi-puppets have rallied around him, because he's the proto-typical example of how to progress in their Bizarro Universe. A little plagiarism? A minor matter! Trifling! Not an affair at all. That he got away with it is what earns him plaudits.

Construct a Tom Bissell bust-- that fine journalist and rationalizer. Place it in a showcase called "Literature Today." Enroll Bissell in the status quo Gallery of Heroes. It makes perfect sense. Rick Moody is caught in a grants controversy-- and is put in charge of awards panels! Tom Bissell plagiarizes-- and writes an essay for Agni on plagiarism! Don't you get it yet? Can't you see the inevitable logic? These charlatans are reflections of the current state of literature-- honest reflections of its corruption. Do you still not understand? To see things as they are in this world, the way it's ordered-- its topsy-turvy reality-- you must stand on your head.

The Jokes Defense

When comments are sifted and examined, the Bissell defense has centered on two old Soviet jokes listed among the nine examples. His "attorney" in the court of blog opinion made this the focal point of her argument, conveniently pushing aside, away from the jury's sight, the obvious paraphrasing of the other posts listed. (Scroll down please to view all nine exhibits.)

Very well. Let's examine the two jokes. As the defense stressed again and again, Russia is a place filled with cynical jokes about the system under which the Russian people live. Hundreds of jokes. Thousands. What, then, are the odds that Bissell and Feshbach would hear the same two jokes-- and independently and coincidentally write about them? Yet this is what the defense argued, only yesterday, on Maud's well-known blog.

But wait! Something else is curious about the matter. The Soviet system ended in 1990. Tom Bissell's Harper's essay was written in 2002! Are Russians still telling old jokes about the Soviets-- or not in fact others about Putin and their current rulers, and the joke of an economic disaster they live under now?

Conclusion: Bissell took the two jokes from the Feshbach book.

The well-researched and carefully constructed Jokes Defense has suddenly and swiftly collapsed; a fallen tower of building blocks. There sits the rubble of the argument on the defense table. Will Maud now apologize for it-- or, like Galley Cat, cross out her own words?

(Galley: Are you not now sorry you bought this shaky argument against your own better judgement?)

Lit-Blogger Backbone Watch, Day Three

I've decided not to out the names of the lit-bloggers who agreed with my thinking. We don't need another Galley Cat situation.

"Thanks for approaching the litblog community and others with a solid argument" was a typical response.

Another lit-blogger said, "The examples that completely sold me on the fact that it is plagiarism are p.115 and p.134-- the ones that involve quotes could possibly have been coincidences, but those two contain such specific examples that in the context of all the others it's clear where Bissell was getting his material."

Stefan Beck of New Criterion threw out two of the examples, and refused to be quoted about plagiarism, but was the first to make this astute observation: "A straight-edge razor is not a safety razor, of course, and you couldn't perform an appendectomy with a safety razor. It reads like this Bissell fellow tried to change something about the sentence, but unwittingly changed it into nonsense. Kids used to do this in middle school: copy something out of the encyclopedia and then run the computer thesaurus over every word. The results were often similarly amusing."

The only e-mail person to say that what Tom Bissell did wasn't plagiarism was Daniel Radosh, who said, "Of the nine parallels you cite, only the first one tiptoes right up to the line of uncomfortable."

No, Bissell tiptoes up to and goes over the line. The first example I gave is a textbook example of plagiarism by paraphrasing. University after university in their guidelines give similar examples. They could use this one as well.

No one has grasped the MOST OBVIOUS example of plagiarism among the nine examples, the last one. I'm sure Bissell himself hasn't caught it. (Or he wouldn't have used it.) Scroll down and read the two similar quotes again, very carefully. First, one is a paraphrase of the other. Second is the idea that a sign from a 1990 protest alludes to Khrushchev. An unusual idea about a such a protest that year, when more likely the sign was aimed at statements from more recent Soviet leaders-- not a guy kicked out of Soviet government in disgrace way back in 1964 and whose public utterances were expunged! Feshbach's is a very unique idea-- which Tom Bissell stole. (Bissell plagiarized a mistake.)

Drew University:
"Although the student has rearranged some phrases and made some minor stylistic changes, this version still follows the basic wording and structure of the original while the student repeats ideas as if they were his or her own."

(More to come, kids. Stay tuned.)

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Answering Several Points

"Plagiarism is a form of fraud." -Hamilton College.

I invite people to read the examples listed below, from the Feshbach book and from Harper's, and tell me if they just really happened to come, by coincidence, purely from a common source. Quite a lot of coincidences! (For anyone who really believes that, I have some beachfront property on Detroit's Zug Island I'd like to sell you.) Why obfuscate? Why the rationalizations and sophistry? Why are the examples so similar? Did they come from a common source? What was that source, then? (Maybe Feshbach plagiarized also!) Did they just happen to hear the same jokes? (Must've stood on the same Moscow streetcorner.) Yep, Bissell heard jokes-- which happen to be just the same ones given in the Feshbach book. Nothing unusual about this at all!

Can't we look at the examples, and their similarities (which would be considered plagiarism by almost every American university) and accept the simple truth that Bissell had the Feshbach book in front of him as he was writing his essay? Why is this so hard to acknowledge for some people?

(Look carefully at the first example also, and decide what we do about that.)

Two points:

1.) We're talking about the original Harper's article, in which Bissell did not cite the Feshbach source. (I'll check to see if he did for the hardcover edition. I believe not. That he DID for the paperback version, after this matter was introduced a year ago, seems to indicate that Bissell knows he goofed.)

Harper's is at question here, from an apparent pattern of literary misdeeds, which I've been discussing on this blog. An a pattern of failing to correct or acknowledge them. To add to this, we now have the question of another example of plagiarism (alleged) from the David DeKok book, Unseen Danger: A Tragedy of People, Government, and the Centralia Mine Fire. Mr. DeKok tells me that one passage was lifted in its entirety, a dozen or so others lightly rewritten, for the Feb 2004 Harper's article by Jeff Tietz. The ULA will be looking into this matter. (Someone has to! I really don't think Maud will.)

2.) Yes, Tom Bissell wrote an essay about the Underground Literary Alliance for The Believer magazine-- and did a very sloppy job, as we pointed out on our site. Alarm bells went up then for us about the guy. Bissell did no interviews and hardly any research, other than a cursory look at our fansite, and e-mailing a list of superficial questions by e-mail to one of our members-- the answers which he scantly referred to. No follow-up questions; no clarifications asked for. No facts checked. As a result, he got very much wrong. Yet this is the guy every one is referring to as "a fine journalist" (Mark Sarvas). Tom Bissell is anything but, and we've well documented that fact.

Finally, do I think Maud Newton is an apologist for the status quo lit-world? Absolutely. To come to that conclusion, all one has to do is read her site.

More later.

Ethics or Manners?

As many folks seem more upset about my approach to Tom Bissell's questionable borrowings, than to the borrowings themselves, I have here a short essay I recently wrote:

The thing to know about the trendy hip people at the exclusive penthouse party known as "literature" is that nothing for them is more important than manners. One of their number could be devoid of all talent (as most of them are), but that's beside the point. How hip is he? What clothes does he wear? Are his jeans faux faded-- or faded for real? Does he smell? Meanwhile, Dostoevsky and Rimbaud stand outside the door, but can't be let in; they're unwashed and unshaven, no clothes from Lord & Taylor: not presentable at all.

A famous Literary Figure at the hip party could be a known serial killer (looking suspiciously like Bret Ellis), well-dressed and hip, martini glass rakishly tilted, holding forth (in Agni of course) on, of all things, law and order. You point to him and say, "But you're a serial killer!" The crowd is outraged. Not at him, for his serial killing, but at you, for speaking of the matter in polite company. "It's . . . it's . . . ," a rich dowager blusters, "it's not done!" Outrageous! Throw the bum out!

The same mentality applies to their taste in literature. What matters isn't if the work contains emotion and truth, but whether the "proper" person wrote it, and if the work is correctly polished and clean; what clothes it's wearing.

Lit-Blogger Backbone Watch, Day Two

Well, what do you know? Suddenly my e-mail box is flooded with e-mails! See what happens when one starts moving around the furniture?

Contention and debate are healthy things for the lit world. Signs of life. Bissell's plagiaristic behavior (sorry, I still insist that's what it was) IS a fit subject for conversation. It shouldn't, anyway, be swept under the rug-- as it was until, well, yesterday.

As for not following "The Rules" (of decorum): I haven't yet; no need to start now!

The responses I've received run the whole gamut; from those who insist there was nothing wrong about Bissell's borrowings; to those who don't know and don't want to know; to those who tend to agree with my stance; to an individual who says an article of his own was plagiarized by Harper's and never acknowledged by that magazine of integrity. That alone will take some looking into. I hope to put together the best responses, from all sides, and put some of them up beginning tomorrow.

(I also think the best way to approach the many differences of opinion will be to actually bring in "The Rules"-- the standards lowly freshmen college students are expected to adhere to. Surely exceptions are not made when one rises higher up? The lit-world, after all, follows its own rules?)

Ah yes; so much is uncovered when the doors and windows are thrown open, light brought into the room.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Lit-Blogger Backbone Watch, Day One

To date I've sent out scores of e-mails about the post directly below this one. To my surprise, I've received several good responses. Mucho props to those who replied! It gives me hope that the lit community is not after all an unthinking monolith. I hope to post the best of the viewpoints, regarding this matter, within a few days.

In the meantime, several leading lit citizens so far have made no comment!

Maud Newton: No Response.
Chris/ Spike Magazine: No Response.
Mark Sarvas/ Elegant Variations: No Response.
Agni: No Response.
Harper's: No Response.
The Believer: No Response.

I'll keep readers of this blog updated as this affair progresses. Thanks.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


I've decided to put up the controversial Tom Bissell Harper's excerpts, and ask for input from anyone and everyone as to whether this constitutes plagiarism. (I may also post at some point the "rules" which entering students at universities are required to follow.)

These quotes were posted on the ULA's thread at the Atlantic forum by "Ranger West," and were originally posted at Amazon by an unknown person. What is being compared are Bissell's "Chasing the Sea" essay from the April 2002 Harper's, and the book Ecocide in the USSR by Murray Feshbach.

Feshbach, page 1: "No other great industrial civilization so systematically and so long poisoned its land, air, water and people. None so loudly proclaiming its efforts to improve public health and protect nature so degraded both."

Bissell in Harper's: "No other industrial society so impartially poisoned its land, water, air, and citizens while at the same time so loudly proclaiming its efforts to improve human health and the condition of the natural world."

Feshbach 43: "Stalinist planning justified itself with a forthright slogan: 'We cannot expect charity from nature, we must tear it from her.'"

Bissell: "We cannot expect charity from nature," the Stalinists used to say. "We must tear it from her."

Feshbach 222: "Ranging beyond Moscow, they could have mentioned the surgeon in a distant part of the Russian Republic who told his colleague, the head doctor of a Moscow hospital, about regularly performing appendectomies with a straight-edge razor, as no scalpels were available."

Bissell: "Where surgeons were forced by supply shortages to perform appendectomies with safety razors rather than scalpels."

Feshbach 56: "Hence the stinging joke Soviets told about the likely results of a Red Army conquest of the Sahara: 'For fifty years nothing would happen. After that we would have to import sand.'"

Bissell: "Soviet joke: What would happen if the Soviet army conquered the Sahara Desert? For fifty years, nothing. Then it would run out of sand."

Feshbach 115: "In the Krasnoyarsk region, bordering Kansk, seventy factory directors were personally assessed during 1990 for discharging polluted water. The fee in each case was a mere fifty rubles, enough to buy two packs of imported cigarettes."

Bissell: "Where factory directors guilty of willfully discharging polluted water into the drinking supply were fined fifty rubles, enough for two packs of imported cigarettes."

Feshbach 134: "In those early years, some enthusiastic Soviets actually named their daughters Elektrifikatsiya (and their sons Traktor)."

Bissell: "Where people were so enthused over humankind's new technological prowess they named their daughters Elektrifikatsiya and their sons Traktor."

Feshbach 218: "They came, after all, from the ranks of a profession where the standing joke had doctors examining a patient asking one another: 'Well, shall we treat him or shall we let him live.'"

Bissell: "Soviet joke: Two doctors are examining a patient. One doctor looks at the other. 'Well,' he says, 'what do you think? Should we treat him or let him live?'"

Feshbach 260: "For at least several more perilous years, it will be easier to point to the size of the ecological danger than to define the most cost-effective ways to reduce it and to say with a hollow laugh, as the Russian Republic minister of health had in 1989: 'To live longer, you must breathe less.'"

Bissell: "Whose minister of health in 1989 advised, 'To live longer, you must breathe less.'"

Feshbach 267: "In 1990, however, the crowd carried not Gorbachev's portrait but signs that read: '70 Years on the Road to Nowhere' and in scornful memory of Nikita Khrushchev's boasts about overtaking American standards of living: 'Let Us Catch Up with and Surpass Africa.'"

Bissell: "The Soviet Union was a country where, in 1990, remembering Nikita Khrushchev's boastful promise to overtake and surpass American standards of living, angry, abused, and exhausted protestors marched past the Kremlin carrying placards that read: 'Let us catch up with and surpass Africa.'"

--There you have it. A lot of coincidences for one little essay. Again, I have to thank "Ranger West" (E.M.) for bringing this to my attention. Comments from all parties about this are welcomed.

Monday, January 17, 2005

An Honest Article?

The Jan/Feb issue of The Atlantic contains a frank article by lit-Insider Walter Kirn entitled, "How I Traded an Education for a Ticket to the Ruling Class," in which he admits that his expensive years at Princeton were a waste of money and time-- but for the fact that it gave him entrance into the ruling cirlces of literature. His real reading-- his literary education-- came afterward when on his own he read the Great Books. (Which I read while working nights in a railroad yard.) At a time when leading positions at major mags are held by Ivy Leaguers, with a smattering of Brits, and when the money-backed lit authors also are Ivy League grads, the Kirn article calls into question the entire current weeding-out process for finding great authors. All we can really say is that it doesn't work. Kirn gives a clue why not.

(Btw, I uncovered the corruption of academic writing programs in the 90s in my zeen New Philistine, notably in an issue in 1995 which discussed the incestuous relationship between the National Endowment for the Arts and Asociated Writing Programs. The issue was publicly ripped to shreds at Bennington's summer writing conference that year in front of many prominent lit writers, who did nothing in response other than inform me about it. So much for the credibility of academy lit writers. To me they're domesticated pets on display in pet shops. No change is coming from them.)

An Abe Lincoln Story

For one of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, the participants had to walk through a college building and step through a window to get to the makeshift stage. Abe Lincoln with difficulty unfolded his long form onto the stage, then looked around proudly and exclaimed, "Well! I have now been through the university."

A Nest of Cockroaches

There are many possible reasons for the failure of Moody and Co. to respond to charges against them. The least plausible is that given by "AddledWriter" on one of these threads that "maybe writers write."

Does AddledWriter really believe that? Does anyone? Do the hordes of wannabes attending writing conferences and seminars to suck-up to name editors believe that?

Jonathan Franzen just writes because he's been on Guggenheim/NEA life support and his books are backed by million-dollar publicity departments. All he has to do is show up for television shows to make an ass of himself.

Rick Moody doesn't just write. He plays games with grants committees. Anyone figure out how, with his track record, he was put in charge of the National Book Award fiction panel? A large contribution to the National Book Foundation perhaps? Who knows? There has to be an explanation. If there were any real journalists in this country they'd look into the matter. The TRUTH is that anything I write about on this blog is merely the quickest kind of examination of how the lit-world operates. I'm merely glancing inside the room. One could go further and start moving around furniture-- and watch the cockroaches go scattering.

What publisher is being sucked-off, literally, by what fledgling author this week? What's happening under that desk? Anyone care to say? The demi-puppets? Heavens no! They don't know anything haven't seen haven't heard a thing not them anyway it's been nice they have to leave-- at the merest innuendo of scandal the demi-puppets don their coats and go running. No! Don't tell us, they scream! We don't want to know anything!
I'll tell you, I laughed OUT LOUD reading Maud Newton's hapless praise of the NYC lit-journal Open City. Even Tom Beller must've been laughing. His journal was intended from the beginning as a showcase for his untalented trust-fund friends, with a few eccentric crackpots sprinkled-in for legitimacy.

Look at who Beller picked to publish as Open City's first book-- trendy trust fund fake poet David Berman (whose Dad is a multi-millionaire corrupt D.C. lobbyist). I can think of few poets who are worse. (The abysmal Liam Rector comes to mind.) There are many great underground poets who kick Berman's ass all over the place-- Cynthia Ruth Lewis, Joe Pachinko, Joe Verrilli, Frank Walsh, many others; poets who actually need some attention and help. But they're not part of the swanky set.

David Berman was supposed to read-off against an undergrounder, but wet his pants and backed out when I came up with the perpetually angry "Mad Dog" Grover as an opponent. Fortunate for Berman he didn't go through with it. We would've had to drag Berman toward the stage. The smell from the cowardly fake would've been emanating from his pants from both sides. There's your Open City, Demi-Puppet. Relish it. The status quo lit world today.

Discussion and Dissension

That was an interesting comment put on one of our threads by Ms. Mullins. Contention about the state of literature in bars is exactly what the lit-world needs. We've had too little of it. It's the sign of a healthy scene. One sees too much of a blind and almost total acceptance of things as they are now in literature, which is crazy, because the art form's position in the culture is lessening. Disagree with us, but the ULA at least is questioning everything and subjecting all aspects of literature today to question and debate.

One hears in bars intense arguments over football, and what the teams are doing wrong, what the sport is doing wrong; what the owners and commisioner are doing wrong; which players are overpaid and should be released. EVERYTHING about the sport is on the table for the fans to rant about and debate. Yet try to do the same thing with the protected world of literature! What's wrong with this picture? That sports has more open, free, unrestricted discussion about its every aspect than does lit?

Moody throws interceptions every week; Beller's team remains in the cellar; Eggers's is a one-man show; stands are empty (skyboxes taken by a coterie of Ivy Leaguers)-- take a seat anywhere-- highly drafted quarterbacks who can barely complete a pass are kept on the roster; the general public, when it considers writers at all, thinks of them as kind of a joke, yet for the caretakers of literature everything is okay. This is one reason why the ULA has formed a rival league. . . .

Saturday, January 15, 2005


Aren't writers, journalists, and lit-mags supposed to be icons of free speech? This is myth.

I e-mailed both Agni and Harper's asking for responses to my posts of this past week. No responses have been forthcoming. Only silence. Not a peep from Birkerts, Lapham, and their staffs; these supposed advocates of open discussion. Not a whisper. They close their eyes, block their ears, and pretend not to notice anything.

Thick curtains are pulled around their offices; steel walls brought in to surround these, steel doors sealed shut with heavy padlocks. Wide swatches of tape are put over mouths of employees; bags over their heads to close off the world so their tottering empire remains safe.

I've e-mailed, written letters, asked again and again here and elsewhere for a comment from Harper's about Bissell's plagiarism. From 666 Broadway has come only silence.

I've asked New Criterion, supposed opponent to Lewis Lapham (they're really not; they're buddies), for a comment about the mysterious "Bryan F. Griffin" who wrote a controversial two-part article for Harper's in 1981, which preceded Lapham's (temporary; cosmetic?) firing. I've received silence. Bryan F. Griffin has vanished down the memory hole of history.

YOU'LL FIND that those who run the established lit world, and their demi-puppet flunkies, aren't at all champions of criticism, controversy, and discussion. They flee from it.

(p.s. Those who embrace Bissell now have wrapped themselves around a tar baby. They're stuck with the guy.)

Pondering the Demi-Puppets

I have to admit I'm puzzled over the way the demi-puppets embrace the rusted girders of the status quo lit-scene. They're like sunbathers remaining on a beach even when told a tsunami is coming. The ULA siren has sounded; the gigantic wave appears, yet they sit deliberately sipping cocktails on their lawnchairs and beach towels as if welded to them.

After the Deluge-- no more demi-puppets.

To me and to other ULAers it's obvious that American lit's role in the culture is dwindling and the art form is in bad need of change. It's obvious to any objective observer with a fondness for literature-- which is what I was in 1992 when I started my newsletter. From the outside I saw the gaping cracks in the walls of the crumbling castle; I noticed the structure's sinking foundations. I yelled and continue to yell, "Get out! Before it's too late!" The pretty but stupid aristocrats inside the walls are oblivious, continuing to nibble on cake and shrimp hors d'oeuvres. They don't see, hear, or notice anything.

"Warning": A Poem

As the waitress in the coffeeshop warned you,
the trendy people have tongues of vipers,
the snake, not the automobile,
that twist words to tailor their lies
around their computer-generated poses
The rich have daggers that plunge
with warm rivers of blood into your spine
their reputations built on stolen goods
The Establishment has towers of plush luxury sofas
and windows of glass,
reflections of illusion, a con game
and armies of mindless soldiers carrying briefcases,
moats of swamps named "job" and "career"
to halt you when you approach their skyscraper gates
layers of walls to climb, impossibly high,
to impede your flow,
to drain your energy and cheapen your soul
and sap your body of enthusiastic life
of the golden dreams of naivete. . . .

(An excerpt from the poem "Warning" in my brand new poetry zeen, Hot Poetry. E-mail me for ordering information.
"Walt Whitman on speed." --Tom Hendricks.)

Football: Apropos of Nothing

Well, we found out last weekend anyway that Brett Favre is no John Elway.

Friday, January 14, 2005

ULA News: Letter from the Zen Baby Federation

ULAer Christopher Robin-- zeenster, poet, story writer-- heads San Fran's Zen Baby Federation, which he uses to promote the best underground writers in the Bay area. We've started slowly merging the ZBF with the ULA-- further evidence that the ULA is building a network of undergrounders across the country. (And soon, in places like Britain.) An excerpt from a recent Chris Robin letter:

"--we're really kickin it up over here in Cali, Joe Pachinko's got a venue at a pizza place in Oakland, William Terry Jr is tearin it up at the Cool Beans in his new home of SF and me and Brian Morisey got the laundromat rockin every friday, indians, homeless people, trannies, beatboxers, old women, AND NO HIPSTERS! so if any ULAers are gonna tour through Cali, me and Joe will set you up in numerous places."

How to Be a Published Author Part III

This week's New York Magazine has a profile on rich kid Amanda Marquit, who wrote a novel at age 14 which is now being published. She quickly found a literary agent for the work-- a friend of Daddy's. Amanda says, "I was really lucky, pretty much."

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Clueless: A Sven Birkerts Update

(Also a Bissellgate Update.)

Rather than jump into on-line battles in which he'd be slaughtered, establishment lit-critic and apologist Sven Birkerts can be found hiding out at the moribund literary journal Agni, issue #60.

In his usual constipated way Birkerts ponders the supposed disappearance of reading in the culture, and wonders, puzzled, at what could be the cause. The guy is so out of it he'd never consider for a moment that his own dead publication and others like it might be a factor.

As Birkerts worries, he lauds the unreadable junk he puts into Agni, including a ridiculous essay by Katherine Jackson. "A visual field of proliferating incidents at a variety of scales draws the eye into all sorts of un-verbalizing interstices. . . ."
Say what?

These Agni people who drive a sputtering Volvo named "literature" are stopped at a roadblock, yellow lights flashing on top of a large sign that says, "ROAD CLOSED." They wait patiently in the car for the road to magically open as hours go by and the sun sets behind them.

Also in the issue is a bizarre essay by Birkerts/Moody/Eggers/Franzen-brownnosing friend Tom Bissell entitled, "Truth or Oxiana." The noted Harper's plagiarist seems to be rationalizing his own misdeeds when he says,

"In much magazine writing, on the other hand, a fair amount of what many consider factual disingenuousness wends its way into just about every nonfiction piece. This is more or less a trade secret of magazine writing. . . . What is unacceptable in newspaper writing is common practice for magazine writing. This is because we read a newspaper differently from a magazine, and we read a magazine differently from a book. Our anticipation of the truth, and the many forms it takes, alters in regard to the conduit through which it reaches us."

This is elevated doubletalk, and it's bullshit. Bissell tries to give the impression that all he did was compress his "transcribing" of a speaker's words-- when he transcribed from a text, from another writer's written words which were clearly in front of Bissell while he was doing it.

Bissell, in discussing a work by Lord Byron, goes on to discuss what is or isn't a "serious breach of readerly trust." (He also calls Jayson Blair a plagiarist.) There's something skin-crawling about Bissell's exhibition of his fraudulence-- like Richard Nixon giving a talk about ethics and determining what is or isn't permitted, using examples of others' failings to excuse his; ultimately arriving at the implied conclusion that anything's okay because he, Nixon-- or Bissell-- is the one doing it; what might be wrong for anyone else is allowable for an establishment lit writer or a President.

His sophistry is distasteful. Bissell shows himself once again to be a person without integrity or character; a charlatan of charlatans, successful as a result, enabled by ethically-absent mentally-challenged editors like Lewis Lapham and Sven Birkerts.

Rather than accept the kind of naked shit Tom Bissell emits about magazines, Harper's should print a simple note in their pages of what happened, with an apology, and a statement of determination that it won't happen again.


I've been listing for myself the things to do with the ULA to take advantage of our many opportunities. The road is wide open for us-- mainly because our message is unbeatable. No one any longer disputes that our criticisms are right. It's now a question of tactics-- of how fast we expand and who we bring in as allies.

To accomplish everything we can accomplish we need more people working hard for this team. Steve Kostecke and I only have so much time and energy-- we're both doing a lot behind the scenes. (So are others like Tim Hall, J.D. Finch, and Pat King.) We have some great new members who we have to bring up to speed quickly-- which I guess will be my responsibility. The best thing would be to hold another East Coast Conclave so people can meet; so we can outline strategy. A business meeting more than a party. (Another Midwest Conclave like the one Steve set up last year might also be in order.) (It looks right now that there will be ULA-related publications and there should be some shows around the country, ideally.)

The original Six of the ULA had not met anyone else (besides me) before Hoboken. We got moving quickly and for six months did amazing things.

I'm giving my priority in the coming months to those who will make the ULA a priority. It's the fastest way to the destination. (We need all kinds of talents and voices.)

Overdogs and Their Lackeys

We in the ULA ask no one to be starry-eyed about joining this outfit. Steve Kostecke, myself, and other ULA cultural warriors are looking for those who can step into harness alongside us as equals to help in pulling the ULA sled. (We'll nudge you back in line if you move in the wrong direction.) All that we offer is the opportunity to be part of an irresistible new literary movement.

I get the impression that those who join Overdog outfits on the Right or the Left are there to serve glamorous potentates. Interns at The Nation, Harper's, or National Review seem enthralled just to be in proximity of the likes of Katrina, Buckley, or Lewis Lapham, who pontificate from above as if they were Cyrus or Darius, waited on by underling eunuchs who've been castrated intellectually if not physically.

Will the demi-puppets wake up long enough to realize it's all a scam? Katrina vanden Heuvel is like the ancient Athenians, democratic only in theory, worrying over the abstract condition of the world from her sense of noblesse oblige while slaves stand alongside this plutocrat with feathered fans. Or, there's Roger Kimball expounding on the free market-- a concept of which his own magazine would certainly never take part!

The game was given away on election eve, when various corrupt figures on both the Left and the Right gathered at the William Buckley residence. There they were, Henry Kissinger, Tom Wolfe, Robert Silvers!, putting aside their ephemeral differences while they gloried for the evening in their mutual status as Overdogs; while the meagerly paid servants or interns outside polished their limos and maybe their shoes. Very democratic! I wasn't invited to one of those private affairs. Were you?

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Ready to Abdicate?

Our opponents' responses are usually weak, beside the point, or absent. Compared to three years ago, they're putting up less and less of a fight.

Like the French royalty circa 1789, they know their standing has no foundation; that they're lacking in force and ideas.

Back in those times you had Edmund Burke spluttering about 10,000 swords raised in Marie Antoinette's defense, so she could serve cake instead of bread. But the swords never were raised-- the aristocrats of storied hype and myth when nudged were discovered to be foppishly feeble-minded. They ran away.

It's the same with today's lit world. The biggest names are jokes: Franzen; Beller; Birkerts; Moody; passive, intellectually stunted, and inarticulate when taken away from long struggled hours trying to write at their desks. (It's why none will contend rhetorically in person or on-line with ULAers. It'd be a mismatch.) The Last Great Literary Aristocrat, George Plimpton, was at least brave enough to debate us. We shredded his arguments, but he at least knew how to raise his voice. (He reminded me when I met him of the old knight discussing things with Villon in R.L. Stevenson's "A Lodging for the Night.")

The noble fakes in rouge and powdered wigs had best have their carriages drawn up now at their palace gates, so they can flee with their baggage to refuge in London or some other faraway place. The assault of the rebels of the ULA is going to increase.

A Quote

"The authors of these pamphlets, hack writers excluded from the intellectual establishment, often emerged after 1789 as revolutionary journalists and orators."

Jeremy Popkin in A Short History of the French Revolution, discussing the "gutter press": DIY writers like Brissot and Marat.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Who Is Jennifer Haigh?

Everywhere I go I hear about the novelist Jennifer Haigh. I stop at an ING for tea, and there is Jennifer Haigh on the television screen. I leave and walk north. A big poster with Jennifer Haigh's name on it is at the public library!

Is she the savior of American literature-- or merely the conglomerate's Flavor of the Week? I'll have to look at her book-- but I'd wager its prose is as tame and domesticated as she is.

As contrast to Ms. Haigh, later in 2005 the ULA will be presenting wild young writers like Jessica Disobedience.


On his radio show last night, Hugh Hewitt was trying to bully his political blogger friends to be more extreme. He was yelling about CBS's partisan bias-- conveniently forgetting his own. This is a guy whose first job out of Harvard was working for Richard Nixon, after Nixon had resigned.

One of the ULA's strengths is that we've avoided taking partisan sides (out of necessity maybe, because we contain a variety of viewpoints). We haven't had either Kerry or Bush on the cover of our magazines! We're ideological only in the sense that we're unabashed self-reliant populists-- which can cover a lot of ground on the Left and the Right. We plan to appeal to everybody-- except a few monopolists perhaps.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Why the ULA Will Win

I've been studying the history of the early Roman Republic, trying to understand how that tiny city-state was able to take over the known world. It's a fascinating subject with parallels to the ULA's battles.

The early Romans were distinguished by their generosity toward defeated rivals, and by their basic integrity, their virtue. They were about the only society at the time which didn't own slaves. The class differences early on weren't striking (they were to go through cycles of narrowing and expanding class gaps). In the beginning, they were a city of peasants. Early Rome before Carthaginian and Greek influences appeared very democratic; the city simple and unadorned. The great civilizations of the time looked down on them.

The Greeks were impressive but hypocritical; democratic and wise in theory, yet aristocratic in attitude, slave-owning, greedy, corrupt, and constantly squabbling among themselves. The early Romans saw wealth and comfort as corrupting influences (as they would prove to be once the Romans absorbed Greek ethos and culture).

The Romans were unbeatable in battle because they were citizen-soldiers; farmers for whom war was a part-time activity. It wasn't how they supported themselves. The Africans and Asians by contrast used mercenary armies whose main motivation was booty.

There's a strong parallel to today's lit-world. The conglomerates are run by out-of-touch potentates like Morgan Entrekin, supported by skyscraper armies of mercenary help whose loyalty to the organization ends with the paycheck.

Roman leaders marched at the head of their armies. Noteworthy is the battle of Cannae, when Hannibal slaughtered 70,000 Roman citizens, including 80 Senators. (Quite a difference from today.) Could one imagine the entire U.S. Senate and George W. Bush marching at the head of our troops? It would send an unbeatable message if they did.

Has anyone seen Morgan Entrekin give a reading? Would it ever happen? He'd be lost. He's not a writer or artist, just an Overdog. He travels in limos through Manhattan circles of lavish and protected wealth.

ULA leaders have always marched out front. We're going to stay non-hierarchical and democratic, because that's our strength. We'll steadily expand, absorbing writers and lit communities into our ranks as we march forward.

ULA Research Department

I'm happy to announce that Adam Hardin has agreed to become a full-fledged ULA member to head-up our Research Department, which up to now has been an ad-hoc affair. Adam will be monitoring awards and grants throughout the literary world to ensure fairness.

The Underground Literary Alliance, of course, made its reputation by speaking up against corruption and standing up for writers-- often as a lonely voice in that fight.

Adam by the way, like many of our members and supporters, is a multi-talented lit person who writes poetry, fiction, and most notably, kick-ass essays which have been featured and will continue to be featured at our fan site's "Monday Report" at

Right now we're like a football team drafting talented players who can harmonize well with the ULA team; getting everything in place for a successful 2005 season. We remain on the lookout for good walk-on players who don't mind a little contention and who understand what we're doing.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

The Veneer'd World

What I like about walking around old cities like Philadelphia (or especially, Detroit) is the age and reality of the streets of buildings. There are blocks of businesses which look exactly as they must have in the 40s or 50s. There are some in Philly which appear much older. One gets a sense of the many generations of people who lived here. I used to walk through Detroit's Cass Corridor and see old carriage house garages like the ones in which, in the same neighborhood, Ford and Dodge had built from bicycle parts their first automobiles. Who knows-- maybe the same ones. I could breathe in the air of human history and the tragedy contained therein-- tragedy because each generation passed away as it must inevitably quickly pass away, as so must we. The idea being to leave some quick mark on this world while we're here. To understand history is to know the deepest tragedy, because the most fascinating wonderful beautiful people have all left-- Caesar to Cleopatra to Shakespeare to George Washington to F Scott and Hemingway, Pound and Plath, every one of them.

I loathe new exurban business streets which are so new, clean, falsely quaint, yuppified and pink and green fake-- like a Bennigan's monopoly chain restaurant. Veneered.

I love zeens for their simple reality, these handmade products of love and affection, expressing such individuality; done by "grubby pamphleteers," as someone once characterized myself and my friends. I like underground prose produced by the likes of Blackolive because there's no pose, no veneer to it-- it's direct and real.

The reason I have such instinctive antipathy-- revulsion, really-- to products like McSweeney's and The Believer-- is because they so well represent everything I hate about the falseness of our contemporary world. They show the same con-artist fake-sincerity pose as do the just-put-up veneered yuppie buildings on an exurban street. In the same way as when you get to know these people (McSweeneyites) you realize they're the same way; friendly to your face yet catty the instant you turn your back. It's the only way they know how to be. It's why they skulk around in the shadows under "Anonymous" names. Facades are all there is to them-- as with the cute but empty facades of their writing.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Magazine Report: American Poetry Review

"three little fireworks"

Poetry is a sphere of lit in bad need of drastic change.

Last Monday I read at a poetry series at the main library here in Philly. The audience looked surprised when I raised my voice.

The big poetry journal produced in Philadelphia is American Poetry Review, a good illustration of why establishment poetry in this country is near death. Unplug its life support from wealthy people and it'd immediately vanish.

As it is, the patient (poetry) lies comatose on the hospital bed, green line on a nearby monitor flat. But wait-- there's a ripple on the line. Not a ripple really, but a vibration. An innuendo of a rumor of a ripple of breathing life.


"Hospital: It was Euphoria" by Jean Valentine, constant award winner.

"It was euphoria
little veins of it sent

burst to the brain
three little fireworks
white on the gray MRI

it was euphoria

when you stove my boat
& brought me over
listing in the racing foam- -"

That's it, folks. An entire Jean Valentine masterwork. Earned her piles of money from rich people. THAT'll get hordes of Americans interested in poetry alright. That'll save the art form.

I look through poem after poem in this prestigious Philadelphia poetry journal and can find hardly a whisper of a ripple of life. The green line remains static as I turn the pages. The machine next to the bed begins to beep.

Names? Oh, the rag contains names, without question: Alicia Ostriker; John Updike; Reginald Shepherd; John Yau; Elaine Sexton; Robert Pinsky; Ira Sadoff. What it doesn't contain is any sense, modulated murmur or whisper of excitement.

"Beep. Beep!"

This kind of irrelevant APR CRAP in fact about shoes yogurt cups incense sticks ketchup bottles tiny leaves old rugs is exactly what chases hordes of college students every year away from poetry. Fire hazard as they crowd the exit door in the classroom; people trampled as mobs flee from the uselessness of the establishment Word.


The machine in the poetry hospital is shouting electronically frantically while the caretakers don't seem to hear as the body on the table begins to turn blue.

Here's an excerpt from APR poet Glenna Luschei's bio: "She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a D.H. Lawrence Fellowship in New Mexico, an Honorary Doctorate of Literature from St. Andrew's Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, North Carolina, and a Master of Life Award from her alma mater, the University of Nebraska. She was named Poet Laureate of San Luis Obispo City and County for the year 2000." Etc. (Her bio is beyond satire.)

"Master of Life"! One might think Glenna's poem, "Waterlillies," should then provide awe, catharsis, or excitement. It doesn't. The poems in this issue range from average to bland to idiotic to insipid to-- in Robert Pinsky's case-- embarrassing.

It turns out Ms. Luschei is a major donor to APR-- one of the nurses or doctors ignoring the condition of the patient. She might be one of those mad health care providers you read about in the newspaper who use the guise of their profession to kill people.


The patient on the table has died. It's turned gray. Poetry was its name. Someone call the morgue and notify the family.

The Next Great Sucking Sound You Hear. . . .

. . . is another Maud Newton interview. She did one with Tom Beller that's pretty funny. The question is whether Maud ever makes a commitment to simple honesty. It'd be a novelty.

Tom is actually a nice guy (when he's not drinking), but his trust-fund endowed magazine Open City has always been lame. He ran an essay of mine about zines way back in 1994-- mangling it horribly to fit into his circus animal "New Yorker" style mentality. He has no sense of the natural rhythmns of language.

Yes, Beller can create, with much effort, serviceable, even pleasant, cookie-cutter short stories, rather clunky but reaching almost to the narrow limits of the well-crafted "literary" story; albeit completely lacking in originality. Strictly paint-by-the-numbers. Picture Tom's large form sitting at a child's table as he searches in his paint box for the correct coded color. Oops! The wrong one. Try again, Tom. Eventually you'll get it.
That's how he writes.

I don't pretend to be much of a writer-- I'm a ranting promoter who dabbles in fiction and poetry. My best love is designing covers for my zeens. With that, I still have more writing ability in my smallest toe than Beller has in his 6'7 totality.

(Don't ever make the mistake of listening to Tom read-- though he's more entertaining at least than Maud's "215" buddies.)

American Lit: A Parade of Propped-Up Fakes.

More Lapham

Bryan F. Griffin's writing resembles Lapham's: a litany of sytlishly critical remarks which don't say much of anything.

Of course Harper's Editor Lewis Lapham should resign; for his fraudulent Republican Convention essay; for his silence about the Tom Bissell plagiarism case. He won't, because the world of literary wannabes remains silent. Has one of the hundreds of demi-puppet lit-blogs out there, all those strict grammarians, said ONE WORD about Bissell's misdeeds? Of course not! They won't; to do so would go against their demi-puppet nature.

When Katrina vanden Heuvel took over The Nation, she followed a pattern set by Lapham's elevation as Harper's Editor in 1977. One could see it coming. A well-connected aristocrat slumming far down at the masthead of a struggling publication. Suddenly, change. A coup leaving the aristocrat running the magazine. This is what happened when Willie Morris was bounced out at Harper's; an apparent mediocrity taking his place. But, blueblood Lewis was from an Old Money banking family, had been educated at Cambridge, had the right pedigree. Someone wanted him in that position. (This back when Harper's was still considered an important magazine.)

Katrina also leapfrogged to gain her standing. The result: two "Lefty" journals headed by upper-class bred-and-bonded Establishment Insiders. (Lapham and vanden Heuvel are both members of Establishment clubs reserved for the powerful and trusted.) After the takeovers their magazines were given "non-profit" status, becoming tax shelters for their wealthy benefactors, then fitted with plastic fangs. (The scenario is out of Orwell's 1984, where the character discovers the Opposition is run by the System.)

By gaining influence with arts foundations; by allegedly now taking over the Yaddo writing colony, banking-family blueblood Rick Moody is merely following the usual pattern: literature as the rich man's plaything.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

A Lewis Lapham Mystery

One of many literary mysteries hushed up over past decades which should now be brought to light is the firing of Harper's Editor Lewis Lapham in 1981. (He was brought back in 1983.)

The firing happened shortly after a two-part article ran in the magazine, written by a "Bryan F. Griffin," entitled, "Panic Among the Philistines."

When I was producing my notorious newsletter in the 90's, New Philistine, someone brought the old Griffin article to my attention. (While we both criticized the lit world, our criticisms came from opposite directions, and we used the "philistine" word in different ways.)

Griffin's article came from a conservative, upper-class direction, knocking writers like Updike and John Cheever, of all people, for their vulgarity and the crassness of their writing. Griffin, in fact, went after nearly every prominent writer of the day. (Most of which are still writing, unfortunately. They were no good then, even less so now.) I looked up the two-part article in a university library. It made for an interesting read-- as did the aftermath.

Amid the outrage, speculation was rampant that Bryan F. Griffin was a pseudonym. Suspects ranged from regular Harper's contributor Tom Wolfe (but why would that egomaniac hide his identity?) to Hilton Kramer to Lewis Lapham himself. Shortly after, Lapham was fired.

In 1994, after having been embroiled in another literary detective story, I looked into the Bryan F. Griffin matter. I could find no evidence of Griffin's work other than the Harper's article, and a later book based on it, published by Regnery in 1983. I wrote Regnery requesting contact info for Mr. Griffin, but never received a reply.

While believed to be a liberal, in the early days of his eternal stint at Harper's Lewis Lapham published many articles which were culturally conservative. A couple interesting points to add context to the puzzle:

-Lapham took great offense at Willie Morris's memoir of literary life in New York, without being specific about what in the Morris book offended him. (Morris was Lapham's predecessor as Harper's Editor.) The Griffin essay incidentally went after several of Morris's friends.

-When the conservative arts journal New Criterion was being planned (the early 80's?), Lewis Lapham was offered the job as Editor, for an alleged $200,000 a year. Did they know something about him which we don't?

I'll speculate that someone at New Criterion today still knows people at Regnery, and knows the identity of the mysterious Bryan F. Griffin, who has dropped off the face of the earth.

Zeen Review Extravaganza!

The 2nd Hand.

ONE HAS TO like this little newsletter at first glance, done on slick paper, despite some obvious McSweeneyisms in cute remarks and designs.

The Fall 2004 issue contains two stories. In "Rulebook for the Enjoyment of a Productive Day" by Jonathan Messinger, the narrator is not of this world. He's in it, but detached; floating on a solipsistic bubble; unable or at least unwilling to cope in an insane society. Who can blame him?

"Love Letters for Sale" by Marc Baez isn't a story, but a demonstration of writing ability.

"I can take care of your needs. If you're sad, I'll leave you to yourself. If you need to wake up, I'll slap your face. And if you're hungry, Pure Infant Soup is a smart, delicious way to start a meal. It takes the edge off your appetite and helps you feel full. To make this soup, first capture a pure Swiss infant." A writer who's read too much Eggers or David Foster Wallace. (In that sense, it's very second-hand.) While it may receive an "A" as a paper in class, it was unsatisfying to this reader.

We'll give The 2nd Hand a "B."

Free. Todd Dills, Editor. 2543 W. Walton #3, Chicago IL 60622.

Last Laugh/Quiet Days in Saint-Denis, #3.

Wild Bill Blackolive doesn't write second-hand prose and isn't trying to impress anybody. He's a natural writer giving the reader his life with unfiltered honesty. One has to immerse oneself into the writing, the bewildering tales of a bewildered narrator, to appreciate it. Blackolive gives the reader the world filtered through an unprejudiced un-"trained" mind full of amazement at that world and his role in it, written in self-mockery. One can see McSweeneyites reading it in bewilderment, so far is the style outside their experience. "However, as the old acid head carries on, the remarkable scene broadens. 1800's gunfighter gone cosmic."

For one who truly wants something truly different Bill is a rare literary find. An underground treasure.

Combined with natural writing from Lisa Falour, another underground rarity. $20/ 4 issues. Cash, or check pay to "Lisa Falour," send to Bill Blackolive, 1776 North McCampbell, Aransas Pass TX 78336.

The History of Candles, a poetry chapbook by Joseph Verrilli.

Natural writing continues! This from the ULA's first poet, who was supposed to read at our 2001 Amato Opera House show but couldn't, because he had no transportation and no decent clothes.

From "Banshee Love":

"latticework of bloodshot orbs
an anesthetic to the innocently deranged
mascara'd visages appearing surreal
like unwanted images from nightmares
when the daylight brings a close-up"

Verrilli sometimes goes off the deep end with parades of strong images. Anyway, it's not Updike.

$5, sold through an interesting underground outfit, Propaganda Press, PO Box 304, Mason MI 48854, cash or check pay to "Leah Angstrom."

Thought Bombs #23

Finally, the most radical of all anarchist zeens, produced by Chicago activist Anthony Rayson. Feel alienated? Order this for polemical rants, news about America's enormous and forgotten prison population (more than half in for drug crimes), news about our society's ongoing war against the underclass (but wait, there are no classes or castes in this country!), a short history of Haymarket, and Anthony's ongoing fight against a corrupt boondoggle urban sprawl project. It's not literature-- but then, maybe it is, the most real kind. News you won't find on your television screen; perspectives only zeens can provide.

$2 to Anthony Rayson, South Chicago ABC Zine Distro, PO Box 721, Homewood IL 60430.

(We eventually hope to have a Review Blog up at the ULA's fan site.)

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

ULA Postcards

Postcards! Get your ULA postcards!

Yes, postcards with the famous ULA Eric Alberasturi "finger photo" (as shown on the ULA site) are now available. Great to send to people you don't like!

We're selling them for One Dollar each, but under a special offer as cleared through the ULA High Committee I have been authorized to sell TEN ULA Postcards for only Three dollars cash U.S. money. Order yours today while supplies last! Guaranteed to be Collector's Items.

Send your money now to me at PO Box 42077, Philadelphia PA 19101, and I'll get ten famous ULA postcards right to you. (Offered free to ULA members who contact me.) Thanks!

Upper Class Banality

Part of a John Updike poem in the Jan/Feb 2005 American Poetry Review, "Elegy for a Real Golfer."

"You were a butternut-smooth blond Southerner
and the plus-fours made you look cocky,
and the smile with a sideways tug to it,
but you didn't deserve to die that unreal way,
snuffed out by oxygen failure in a private jet"

Trouble in the Bloggosphere

Political bloggers are making a mistake by allowing their independence to be co-opted by political operative Hugh Hewitt. If they become simply a simplistic unquestioning extension of the Republican party, like Hewitt, their potential credibility is reduced to zero.

Another disturbing sign in Blogland is the Newsweek profile of the "Craig's List" guy, with Craig shown as a negative persona, a nerdy t-shirt potato chip slob who hasn't experienced daylight in a decade. Be a slob, sure, but also have some personality-- not appear as a blank, a void, an absent space on the page; a Craig. There's not a shred of energy or charisma in sight.

Charisma is the ULA's strong point with Wild Bill, Marissa Ranello, Michael Jackman, Jessica Disobedience, Crazy Carl, Wred Fright, and many more tough or comic kick-ass writers we're shoving into the spotlight.

A team of superheroes; the Greatest Show in Lit: the Underground Literary Alliance.