Thursday, December 30, 2004

ULA End-of-Year Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Anonymous said...

As I see it, the ULA is a much needed breath of fresh air with a strong record of success and impacts. It has a livelier website presence than any MFA program that I’m aware of. Nevertheless, I think you may find support from some folks in the MFA arena, and I think ULA can invigorate and be invigorated by working with some of the more fertile [and socially conscious] energy to be found there, as I believe, Karl, you indicated was at least partly your experience at Rutgers recently.

Don’t know if ULA is in contact with Don DeGrazia (American Skin) of Chicago. His ethos (and background, at least in part) seems quite similar to that of ULA, though he trained in an MFA program where he now teaches. Also maybe C. W. Cannon. Good article on them and what Cannon calls “Radical Social Realism” in “Fiction on the Edge” at Robert Newman (The Fountain at the Center of the World) might well be supportive too, I would guess. Don’t know, but they seem like they might be natural or at least complimentary fits to ULA with similar values, concerns, outlooks, maybe differently focused.

Like DeGrazia, I’ve gone through an MFA program (Southwest Texas State, now Texas State, in San Marcos), and I found it to be, like most things, a mixed experience. Parts of it were wonderful, other parts much less so. There is a lot of criticism of MFA programs within the programs, especially from students but also a considerable amount from professors as well. My experience is too complex (and maybe too banal) to go into here I think, but as frustrating as the experience often was, it was also valuable in a variety of ways and, at least to me, not something I would wish to give up lightly.

In general, the main problems with MFA programs, as I see it, are similar to some of the main problems of universities on whole: the lack of democracy, the disconnect from much of the populace, and from many of the most meaningful and urgent issues and realities….

And the main positives I think generalize too from university and college environments at their best to MFA programs: the resources (albeit limited, in serious ways) and events, the more-or-less open discussions, the focus, the more-or-less shared general interests, and other personal and professional opportunities in and around and related to the institution and the environment. The opportunity to participate in various ways. Lots to criticize, lots to challenge, lots to be challenged by in building a livelier and more hospitable, more equitable culture—which, if I’m not mistaken, seems to me to be a large part of what the ULA is about. For sure, the ULA’s roots are not in MFA programs, a healthy and needed reality, an exciting venture.

I agree with Jeff that there’s a lot to be said “for putting out front the group” rather than focusing on “stars”…. You don’t have to listen to Retsin to think that “stars they all fall from the sky.” On the other hand it makes sense to me to ally with other populist forces, some fairly prominent. Would Ani DiFranco use some ULA writing in a song, as a song? Can ULA work with folks at Znet/Zmag to grow and reach out as an institution or force…and so on.

Tony Christini

King Wenclas said...

One of our early members had been kicked out of a writing program for arguing with the prof. Those are the kind of writers I prefer for this outfit!

Jeff Potter said...

I see no reason not to have relations with institutions and insiders. Our outsider view has to be helpful to them---if they'd ever care to see themselves as they are---and we gladly use info from inside. We won't change for them, though. If they want to be relevant, they have to teach zeening and include its legends among the heavyhitters.

Yeah, I like the idea of playing up the group. Elvis was a name alone, but The Beatles were a group. A group works. Hey, we're the ULA! Who are we? We seem like a buncha regular people to me. Regular as in: normal enough to know there's no time to lose. Right now our line-up on our official website looks a little tame: a list of names. I think we need descriptive blurbs or wrestling titles next to our names.

Every other literary line-up reads like : "teaches at...", "is married to...", "vacations in the south of..." Boring!

The ULA line-up reads like an electric shock in comparison. We got rock'n'rollers, frycooks, stand-up comedians, anarchists, rockabillies, radio DJs, guys sleeping in the bushes, real courtesans, over-the-top characters, SSI-recipients, bodyguards, models, punk musicians, organizers, businesspeople. We all have ink on our hands that might as well be tattooed there. We have folks from all walks of life---but seize-the-day action types are selected for. There's not a tweed-coat or black-slouch Eggers wannabe among us! (If there is, at least they'll pull the lamp down on themselves at the wrong moment.)

King Wenclas said...

Well, we are promoting the group, Jeff-- and particularly the name, "ULA." But when it comes to promoting individual writers-- part of our mission-- we can't promote twelve at once. It simply doesn't work; too diffuse and unfocused. Much easier to get one across the finish line first, as the representative of a movement, which is exactly what happened with Elvis. Or-- the Beatles had to break through in the U.S. before all the other Brit bands could even be considered. That's how things work in the world.