Friday, December 15, 2006
"Nightmares of Detroit"
(Not written yet.)
THE SEARCH FOR MR. FIVE
Most put-upon creature on the planet the Sewer Rat.
He made his way through the most put-upon city through destroyed closed warehouses shops sidewalks bridges, past crumbling landmarks like the decayed hulking green decayed stone iron train station, vast green flowing smelly Detroit River rushing relentlessly behind it.
The air was gray chilled, a foot of snow on the ground. The foul smelling Sewer Rat sensed a snap in the wind beyond the cold. Something was happening. He'd sensed the moment once before several years ago. Within minutes came the impression of movement on the once-silent streets. He heard helicopters, felt the presence of police crusiers nearby bolstered by outsiders; a vast sweep looking for fugitives, including himself.
The last time there were more questionable denizens to round up. There'd been more life-- raucous bars like the Cass Corridor saloon he'd been in when a phalanx of huge black vice cops lined patrons up against a wall to frisk bodies check id cards-- Sewer Rat had slipped through the cursory examination then. More lethal subjects had been in that very room. Next to them, at the time he'd appeared harmless.
Given his brother-- the fact of his brother; that he lived-- Sewer Rat guessed he was a particular target of this round-up. They were looking for someone!
(For Mr. Five? This notion appeared momentarily at the back of his head.)
Trapezoids of icy structures on all sides as he slid down a slick sidestreet, his feet cold inside his workboots. A closed tiny ham sandwich diner which had served local shop workers: it'd been shuttered for eight years, dark barred interior showing dust and cobwebs.
To live as he had, homeless or on the verge of homelessness, existing on the streets or in tiny rooms in druggie hotels; in prostitute near-flophouses; in abandoned buildings or the interiors of barely-operating blue-smoke-billowing cars; amid the ruins of a city, on the constant verge of extinction, for years, does something to a person. To live without dreams or hope with the feeling only of survival makes a person too-beaten down and crazy to operate again in the organized world. To be seen as, and to be, an alien creature to all one encounters gives one hardness and bitterness beyond conception and redemption.
(No doubt he exaggerated his plight. In his madness; guttural-voiced grunts his only communication with most people; scarred-eye and weather-faced; he saw himself as others saw him but not as he was in reality.)
He had a few friends left in this town. For instance: Benny the Blind Man.
Sewer Rat trudged Benny's way now, finding Trumbull Avenue, a street of fallen-apart Victorian mausoleum mansions which by a miracle of neglect yet survived; too irrelevant to be bulldozed.
Some of the tall narrow houses on the long street had been restored in a gentrification project twelve years ago; most of the pioneering gentry had fled, Detroit a city which, beyond all logic and expectation, never rebounded. Others of these ancient structures were charred shells. Benny's hideout was between the two extremes. His house was a wreck but it had intact windows. Its bannisters, frames, and plumbing hadn't been gutted. By a quirk of bureaucratic ignorance water ran inside. There was no electricity, which Benny scarcely needed anyway. (For heat he burned neighborhood scrap wood in the fireplace.)
Benny's house had the kind of medieval fortress iron bars over his windows and doors which imprisoned most remaining city residents. The barred door now stood battered and broken, grillwork on the lawn, the entrance wide open. The police or Feds had already been there.
"Benny!" Rat called as he bounded up uneven steps.
Benny sat in a rickety Victorian armchair at the center of the junk-filled orange room, too stunned or pissed; old, weak, or blind; to close the entrance. The door had been knocked off its hinges. Sewer Rat propped it up to stop the wind.
"You mother-fucking trouble making white sewer rat asshole-- wuz they looking for you?" came from the old man whose angry wide-opened eyes showed blankness.
He was stocky, of wide frame, but scarcely over five feet in height (presumably he'd once been taller). In age he must be at least 90. This man WAS Detroit; he knew everything, the entire history of the city, its rise and decline, not just the riots of '67 but the even bloodier race riot of 1943. He knew the city's Gilded Age, the glorious 1920s when the Automobile was still new and Detroit's industries were King; when wealth, new mansions, and sudden skyscrapers like the gold-topped Fisher Building proliferated. When the train station was gigantic, gaudy, and bustling with people. The richest city in North America it'd been, if not on the planet.
Could this rise and fall have occurred in one person's lifetime?
The inside of the junk-filled house looked more wrecked than usual. The storm troopers hadn't messed around. Rat took a large swig from a bottle of Jack on the floor next to Benny.
"Thanks," he said to the ancient man, who tolerated him because he ran errands now and again. Rat had in fact bought this bottle, from a tiny decrepit party store half-a-mile of urban devastation away from here.
Rat felt the warm liquid fall into his stomach then swim into his head. His tired feet throbbed, tingling with the illusion of warmth the whiskey provided.
"They never said what they wanted," the small-headed brown old man moaned from his rickety chair. "But I figured it must be you!"
To the Sewer Rat Benny appeared to be an amazement or carnival freak; a preserved talking Egyptian 5,000 years old. Maybe that was why Rat liked him-- Benny was as much a freak as himself.
In reality Sewer Rat hated blacks-- or at least had been raised by his father to hate them. This from the days when the city consisted of two armed camps; battles of territoriality everyplace as Detroit changed from a white town to a black one, full of violent atrocities mythical and real on both sides. Rat's brother had been in the midst of high-school gang fights of blood and chains before moving on to other infamies. It was where he'd first made his rep and obtained his supposed leadership ability.
"They're looking for leaders, Pops," Sewer Rat said to Benny. "I'm a lone wolf. It's how I've survived. This city is up for grabs and whoever wants it has to destroy his rivals."
He had no idea who'd want the city. Even the rich rappers and drug lords found haven outside the city limits. Yet Rat sensed that the force behind the helicopters federal agents and SWAT teams believed something of value remained; some unknown jewel or hidden treasure, undiscovered, unmarked, unseen, the merely legendary. Maybe only the spirit of the meaning of the glory and wealth of Detroit's fabled days.
He climbed narrow stairs to the top room, where he sometimes stayed. In back of pipes behind a panel in a wall he retrieved a small roll of bills. Every rat needs an emergency cache. His hand clutched the small roll in the room's shadows. He'd become used to living in a blind man's house, used to hiding in the city in holes without light so that, like a blind man or a rat he could operate without light. When he cared to shave, he did so in cold water without lamp or mirror to guide him. When he moved outside he could do so by instinct more than sight.
He unlocked a ten-speed bike chained to a cold radiator. He carried it on his shoulder down the stairs to the main room and set it down, leaning it against a thick plaster wall. Benny stared ahead blindly but knew what Sewer Rat was doing.
"I'll be right back," Rat said, leaving the bike.
He walked half-a-mile to the tiny store, a layer of dust on its tiled floor; windows grimy and gray. The Chaldean store owner behind a faded plexisglass barricade seemed pleased to see him. A young street urchin stood to the side: an undernourished black youth with yellow teeth and a cold stare; no doubt a member of this or that band of predators roaming the streets. (Or one of Five's people?) Sewer Rat noted him without so much as glancing at him. The biggest mistake newcomers to the streets make is wanting to befriend the residents, naively believing this will give them safety, when instead it heralds them as marks to be played. When Sewer Rat traveled the streets he was deaf, dumb, and blind to all around him yet at the same time saw everything. In nature the opened eye is a beacon. To not pass with eyes upon any living thing was to become invisible. Rat had mastered this art.
In the brutal store Sewer Rat's stare was no less cold and contemptuous than the youth's. Rat's scars of survival displayed themselves on his face. He purchased a pound container of baloney, a loaf of white bread, and a two-liter bottle of soda. The items were dust covered.
"Thank you, boss," the store owner said. Rat glanced at him but made no other acknowledgement.
Back at Benny's he drank some of the soda and split the bread and baloney. His share would go with him, in a jacket pocket. The rest of the soda and food he left with Benny as rent payment.
When night fell Sewer Rat took the bike outside down the house's shattered steps. The snow-filled city spread in all directions. Hints of blue lights and sirens illuminated distant portions of the sky.
"Sees ya, old man," he said gruffly to the figure in the chair before propping the broken door back in place. "Take care of yourself."
Sewer Rat had a hard journey ahead of him to the safety of a better hiding spot.
Traveling too fast up an overpass across an expressway, the bike hit a patch of ice in the snow and went out from under him, the Sewer Rat landing flat on his back. Embarrassed, he scrambled back onto the bike and rode down the bridge toward downriver and the industrial heart of the city, which Rat could already sense outlined glowing and terrible in the distance.
He had more broken territory to get through first; had planned his journey to bypass the zone of the dogs. The remnants of the city before him were a transplanted illusion. He saw at the same time the sprouting, barren cold wilderness that once was and would be again.
Why he was still in this city, he didn't know. He'd fallen so far there was no place to flee to. "The last white person" living in the black city, his infamous brother had mocked him as once, with blue eyes flashing, before trying to throw Rat and his Detroit smell out of his cheap suburban house (everything for the guy a physical or psychological test), this leading to a living room brawl upturned chairs knocked-over lamps reawakened yellow-haired warrior brother who'd boxed in the army hitting the Rat with jabs and flurries of punches absorbed by the head and shoulders backs colliding with thin plasterboard walls, house shaking, a quick bout between brothers amid the comical debris of a tiny room. Afterward Sewer Rat walked dazed bloodied and angry toward the closest far-away bus to take him back into the darkness of town as his brother smiled primitively from the excitement of battle while standing like a prehistoric barbarian chieftain on his cheap sunken working-class suburban porch.
The story of Rat's life was escaping, forever running somewhere, searching to find a nook of security, refuge from the violence of this mad city. Ever had it been for him, since he remembered. Ever would it stay.
He was the last white person in the city but not any longer, he'd seen or at least heard of new faces appearing on the streets, refugees from the swiftly declining suburbs. The entire area had been thrown into chaos, the machine falling apart, people flying off from it becoming wandering lost souls.
As he rode he noticed a panorama of a hundred tiny lights ahead, reflections of the snow he guessed. Only when in the midst of their raging eyes and throaty snarls did he realize he'd miscalculated; their region had spread.
Entire abandoned sections of the city had been taken over by packs of wild dogs, this one of them. The Sewer Rat pedalled faster, too late to back out. The dogs were of all colors, one notably white, like a wolf, others darkest black, all with red demonic eyes, running eagerly trying to hit his bike, teeth snapping at his feet. A chorus of barks echoed from dozens, scores of them. A hundred, their numbers grown, their primal voices building in force, more dogs rushing from shadows to join in. "Oh shit," Sewer Rat said. If the bike slid now, if he fell off, it was over. He dropped his gloves so his hands could grip the bike handles with more feel and control as he stood on the pedals and increased his speed.
From the corner of his eye Rat noticed dogs rushing to cut him off. He had to outrace the fastest of them, those mad beasts bounding eagerly toward him. The air swept cold against his face and all he saw was frigid blackness ringed with ice rubbled buildings hostile sky sweeping insane no-man's-land city, he was alone in it with no one to save him. "NO!!" he shouted as the bike shifted side-to-side wildly from his frantic pedalling, among the dogs one of them at the same time about to be ripped apart by them flesh-and-blood in their hungry mouths he'd die unknown and unmourned. Around him a symphony of bullying barking in-his-face close noise and aggression pissing him off. No different from people: brave in a crowd. He'd love to tackle the bravest of them in a fight one-on-one, to the death. It'd not be like the fight with his brother (despite his impossible reputation, a memory of a warrior past his best); there'd be no holding back. He'd rip out the dog's eyes, tongue, and throat.
The entire pack of dogs stopped suddenly at an invisible line marking their territory. They stood looking after him with tongues out and mocking triumphant smiles.
"Assholes," the Rat said, speeding ahead then turning in his madness around, firm control over the bike, riding back in the other direction from where he'd come as fast as he could. The dogs stared uncomprehending at him then went scattering in all directions as Rat on his bike like a big dog crashed through their line, Rat yelling in a powerful crazed voice as loud as he could. He laughed at the idea of his aloneness in this wasteland. He could yell all he wanted and no one heard; nobody cared. He yelled and yelled, and howled, then left their territory before the dumb animals could regroup. He still had a long way to go.
The Sewer Rat was now in a worse environment, amid the remains of enormous factories which made him feel like an ant. He was in Hell itself. On his face dropped the polluted smell; on all sides the steel strewn lots and towering furnaces of the industrial world. The furnace of the city yet operated; that which had once powered the entire planet. Black iron outlines against cascades of red. Roaring huge semi-trucks bursting from fenced-in yards, Sewer Rat almost run over without being seen by the monsters. They were far worse than the dogs. The tires of Rat's bike went punctured and flat from nails and metalled scrap. (His feet were protected by steel-toed boots.)
Sewer Rat raised the bike over his shoulder and walked in-between narrow spaces next to fences. On one side spread the remaining industry of southwest Detroit; on the other, to his left, as if he could fall over an edge into it, lay the surging river of the straits of Detroit which grew in power as it went downriver before exploding in one last force of release toward Lake Erie; gigantic terminals and factories rising like a wall around it. A spectacular picture. Behind, he knew, without seeing it, was the Ambassador Bridge. He saw everything in his mind's eye. This was a hard inhuman world of inhuman scale. The hardest world. The toughest city. How could any living creature survive in it? Only rats could.
The man turned his path away from the river toward a large railroad yard spreading between the monster factories; a gray repository of pollution which made the ideal hiding place. The Rat had worked in it when he was in his early twenties, ten years ago or so. He knew the yard well.
As he walked to it, up a slowly rising hill, across an evenue, he passed a black-spired Catholic church built by Hungarians or Poles a hundred years ago, now closed. He passed dingy gray shops and saloons which still served stray workers, hiding aged old-time residents, and impoverished black welfare mothers; even a scattering of Mexican newcomers; sparks of life in a city written off as dead. The people were as beaten-down as their environment. He passed a soot-coated cemetary of decaying monuments which no one visited. The relatives of the dead had abandoned the city decades ago. Ahead he could barely see-- only because he looked for it-- the silhouette of the railroad tower that was his destination.
Still carrying the bike, heavy and painful now on his shoulder, the Rat climbed a steep hill of weeds buried in snow. He clutched desperately with his left hand for a grip, his hands cold with his gloves gone. He arrived at the top and gulped cold air, his eyes alert. Silently and carefully he stepped toward the shape of the gray tower when movement noise a shadow a pair of searing large eyes caught his attention-- he hissed his mouth snapped eyes bristled the bike off his shoulder thrust behind him as he grabbed the human in Rat's territory with both hands around the throat. "Yikes!" he heard in the squeak of a soft voice before he squeezed the life out of the person. In his hesitation he felt surprisingly strong hands around his wrists while he stared with shock into a young white woman's face. Helpless before her strength or her illusory beauty he stopped his fight. He stepped back or was pushed back.
"Hi there," the girl said after a pause, regaining her composure, though her lips trembled.
She carried the bearing of a training he'd never encountered. It occurred to the Rat that he knew who she was, had heard of her the way one hears of personages of a city, such as Mr. Five; such as himself.
"Don't trust any white woman in Detroit with good teeth," his lunatic brother with admonishing finger had advised him once. "They're undercover cops. No one else has health care."
This girl had fine teeth yet looked too young to be an undercover agent. She continued shaking, her stoic front unable to hide her fear. The Rat grunted. "Follow me," he told her.
He glanced behind him to make sure she did. The young woman wore a new looking poncho and baggy trousers, was lean and almost his height. Her large eyes reflected what little stray light existed in this long railyard through which few trains any longer passed. They approached a gray horizontal tower blending into, yet at the same time looming out of, the noxious sky.
"Wait here," he said as he disappeared along the side of it and reappeared with a long crowbar he'd hidden: the tool of bar-men who opened rail cars and banged them shut. The rat saw an image of three gleaming puller engines bringing trains out of the underground rail tunnel from Canada with tremendous power. Before seeing them one would hear them coming in a roar of noise, vibration shaking the tower, its walls and floors, three yellow diesel engines pulling a hundred-car train leaving a layer of soot on everything as they went by.
It was a big joke in the Del Ray neighborhood years ago that Hungarian immigrants would hang their just-washed sheets on clothes-lines behind their shack houses only to see the white sheets tint brown from the polluting shops, slaughterhouse glue factories, and diesel engines of the neighborhood-- as well as from the huge smokestacks of the nearby Mammoth complex. Bizarrely, the never-ending pollution had been a sign of economic health: available jobs. Now that most of the jobs were gone, only the layers of pollution were left.
The Rat used the crowbar to force open the heavy metal door into the tower. The girl hesitated. "It's getting colder," he said, motioning toward the sky. "This is refuge." She stepped in and he pulled the heavy door closed behind them.
He was out-of-practice talking to women. Try not to scare her, he thought, though some quality about her scared him. It was a factor beyond his comprehension-- maybe that, unlike with the dogs, he was now encountering an animal more intelligent than himself. With an instinct of survival he sensed this. The question was whether she realized it herself.
Yes, he'd heard about the girl, a runaway from the declining neighborhoods of Grosse Pointe; the once-glamorous haven of the automotice rich which was now in a state of collapse. The turning clock. "The Princess," people called her. He'd wondered if she existed for real and now she was right in front of him.
The building smelled of sulfur, soot, and urine. The Rat made his way up the metal stairs which rose in darkness. The girl followed. They passed several doors numbered "2," "3," "4," in large bright painted letters before Rat pulled one open. They entered a room at the top of the tower, window overlooking the entire yard.
Beyond lay the awesome smokestacks of Mammoth Motors pouring lighted clouds of fiery orange smoke toward the heavens. A living beast. It never failed to be an impressive sight for him. Once it'd been the wonder of the world. "The Arsenal of Democracy": At its birth the greatest industrial complex ever known. Yet it throbbed! The company a heartbeat away from bankruptcy but not silent yet. What maneuverings took place to save this corporation, this city, in the offices of their headquarters; what conversations between the powerful executives, their many designers and engineers? They existed in a circle of activity and knowledge far above him.
The girl continued to shiver, a look of displeasure on her features.
"The john's in the basement, all the way down," he told her. "Kind of smells." A men's john at that. Underground dungeons. He'd have to use it himself. For now he took off his jacket and pulled blankets out of a steel locker against the wall. Two large gray metal desks faced each other in the center of the room.
"Do I have to walk all the way down there?" she complained. "I mean, is that the only one?"
Preppy irritation; unwillingness to walk alone through the unfamiliar darkness of the solid structure. Then she was gone. Again, something about her cautioned him: a ready ability to overcome fear.
As he gazed at the belching old smokestacks which never stopped, he sensed that everything was related. The sweep of police cars and helicopters were connected to the fate of what sat like a resting giant before him. Did someone feel they could save Detroit by capturing the likes of him? A last desperate battle for control had opened. The girl returned and the Sewer Rat shut down his thoughts.
Ode to Best
My brain strains to contemplate
the dilemmas of talent
precocious well-crafted sentences
constructions designed for literary experts
precious New York Times perspective
five approved names
bland, feeble, pompous
"best" of "today"
Ford, Shteyngart, Messud,
Pessl, and Hempel.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Anyone can write a novel. Look at the well-hyped award-winning mind-numbing trash of the literary establishment.
Fiction isn't my greatest strength (it could be my least), but when I see ingenues like Marisha Pessl receiving a million dollars for stuporous crap I may as well throw my own hat into the ring.
Look for the opening section of my own big novel appearing here soon. . . . It will be one tiny piece of a much larger picture; will focus on one character out of a hundred; but will still, maybe, give an impression of the greater work which resides inside my head. What do I bring to a novel? Only my volubility and the scars of my experiences, of which I've had a few.
(After posting the excerpt I go into full promotional mode of our upcoming actions and of two new ULA novels which ARE finished and will be appearing in bookstores soon.)
Chasing the American Dream
Yes, I guess the idea of someone like Kucinich running for President is truly laughable in this corrupt society. Ingraham missed his point-- his emphasis that he's FROM the people, not imposed from on high as are too many Presidential candidates in both parties.
Just as the Underground Literary Alliance represents authentic culture, from the populace. Like Dennis Kucinich, we also are chasing the American Dream. Is there a place for us in literature today?
We think our chances are much better than Kucinich's. We've embarked on an adventure to make change. Care to join our ranks? We offer not complacent stasis, but change-- the thrilling challenge to turn literary culture completely on its head while founding a new and exciting organization. These are our early days. Jump aboard for the ride!
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
The Battle of Ideas
We've won most of the debates we've engaged in-- won them in such striking fashion that our opponents were left psychically battered. Our ideas, our authenticity, our credibility, against the rotten tottering literary structure of today, can't be defeated.
Our message and our name are currently repressed by those who control the flow of ideas concerning literature. We're like an off-stage character, never mentioned but present in everything said. This was evident in the facile interview Robert Birnbaum did with Rick Moody last year (www.themorningnews.org/archives/birnbaum_v/rick_moody.php).
The attempt to pre-empt conflict; the defensiveness about Jonathan Lethem's grant; the need to give Moody a patina of street cred, was due to us.
When you repress an idea or emotion, it bursts forth later stronger and more important than before. Such is nature's law. This will happen with our literary movement and with our arguments.
The strength of an idea is gauged by the opposition it generates. You don't abandon your ideas at the first sign of reaction. Not against a hurricane wave of reaction. Instead you push them home.
Are ULA ideas valid? I believe so, or I wouldn't have spent six years promoting them.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Authentic counter-culture writing is offered by ULAers. We stand outside the system; apart from the pack.
"You Demi-Puppets. . . .
Mere illusions; anonymous ghosts; fanciful with no substance and nothing to say.
Friday, December 08, 2006
Best American Poet?
After reading the excerpts given by Kirsch, I'd say the ULA's Frank Walsh is demonstrably better than Seidel. My task will be to prove this through examples in the weeks leading up to the big Philly Read-Off now being set up between Walsh and the genetically-engineered U of Penn freak "Super-Poet."
Stay tuned for more details.
Will obituaries discuss her mysterious involvement with the mysterious Heldref Foundation, which in the 1990's was buying up literary journals?
Note to Literary Millionaires
How can you help out, you ask? (I know you're eager to aid someone from your own nation.)
It's easy! Drop a ten dollar bill U.S. (no checks; Fred's really underground and can't access banks) to:
PO Box 3012
Tucson AZ 85702
Ask him to send you a copy of the novel Dream World.
Reading the book will be a step toward pulling yourself out of YOUR dream world; the dream world aristocratic writers who are detached from their own land are forced to live in. You'll also be helping a treasure of American literature and ideas to live.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Among the items I took out were several of the real underground masterwords created over the past twenty-five years, including Jack Saunders's Screed, Michael Jackman's "The Army" zeen, "Security" by James Nowlan (more about that later), Fred Woodworth's novel Dream World, and two great books by Joe Pachinko.
I also came upon a copy of an exchange in The Believer from 2003 between the ULA's Michael Jackman and the lit-establishment's Tom Bissell. Some interesting points were made. A Jackman quote:
"Bissell spends a good deal of effort constructing a laughable fantasy world in which the ULA has the almost Soviet power to decide what is published. Let's just say that I wouldn't want to live in a world where people like Bissell decide what is published. Yet, the punch line here is that I actually do live in a world where people like Bissell decide what is published."
In response, Bissell says about Jonathan Franzen, "a writer who, when I first met him six years ago, was basically living from month to month and struggling as much as I've ever seen anyone struggle. . . ."
But wait a minute! Mr. Franzen during that time was a subscriber of my newsletter. Copies were mailed to a ritzy address on Manhattan's upper east side-- probably the most expensive piece of residential real estate on the planet.
Quite a definition of "struggling"!
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
On the one hand are writers living not much differently from Francois Villon in Medieval France; the safety net gone, or at least gaping holes in it; life and art a constant struggle.
On the other side in bright sunshine, wearing frilly collars of fashion and empty glamor, parade the clean and the saved. Millionaires, they read, in glowing palaces, their flimsy cute words to the children of the privileged, who beam, gaze, and smile with perkiness; wide-eyed, fresh-faced, and stupid as cattle.
The Aristocrats know that history is on our side. Reactionaries never prevail. Future generations not blinded by the instruments of class and career, or a shimmering phony veneer, will see them for the posers they are, while resurrecting the true original meaningful poets and writers whose words resonate with experience, grittiness, and authenticity-- with soul and anger.
"--she ought to be better known." "--she's written only short stories-- in an age that doesn't particularly value them."
Uh, Ms. Simpson, could the problem possibly lie in the stories themselves?
How will Alice Munro be read a hundred years from now if few people can read her word-clotted prose now?
Monday, December 04, 2006
Vercingtorix sought to unite the Gallic tribes in order to throw out the Imperialism of Rome. Small-minded chiefs contested this. "By what right," they shouted, (in Colleen McCullough's compelling version of events) "do you put yourself at the forefront?" "Because I have," he answered. "Someone had to take the lead."
Vercingtorix, of course, was undercut by his own people when victory was close.
The situation is little different with underground and small-press writers. They accept the monopolistic dominance of the bureaucratic big-money skyscrapers in New York as a given. Some writers are such loners they refuse to unite under any banner; are unwilling to stifle personal ego for the good of the larger cause. Others are hungry for any sign of mainstream acceptance, no matter how tiny; no matter how token; are unable to sustain the plethora of hardships that making change involves. Instead of remaining neutral, some of these writers even engage in attacks on us-- as if we're the problem; as if we have any power in this society. They're enablers to the literary aristocracy.
No matter! The ULA will prevail regardless. We've shown that a handful of outspoken writers can send shock waves through a closed and complacent literature. Out task is to do more of this-- to push our unbeatable ideas home.
Things are tough all over. Some holding jobs in publishing in New York City are very upset that I've referred to them as demi-puppets.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Best Lit Site Ever
done by ULAer Adam Hardin.
My favorite posts are the Oates bit, and Adam's deconstruction of a poet.
Check it out!
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Sheep of the Literary World
Lit folk refuse to link with us because we, the most powerless of writers, have somehow become "bullies" capable of pushing around truly powerful millionaires and their armies of lackeys. Lit characters friendly to me in the past are suddenly aghast at things I've said. Pure phoniness. Another accuses me of not being open-minded, yet declines to exchange links to share each other's ideas.
The truth is that these people are terrified of upsetting the powers-that-be in the literary world-- patrician barons like Eggers and Moody-- by acknowledging our existence in anyway publicly. Word has come down from on high. Like the jellyfish they are, these icons of integrity have complied.
Someone who rejects us solely because we don't have enough women, or this or that, in our ranks, is someone who sees the world in categories and stereotypes. If people don't join us because we don't fit some pre-ordained percentage of prescribed diversity, that's THEIR problem, not ours.
They need to examine their own attitudes first before attacking ours.
This morning I had the displeasure of listening to bourgeois poets Anne Waldman and Jason Shinder misinterpreting the meaning of "Howl." About the famous "Moloch" rant-- "blood of money"-- they spoke in circles, refusing to acknowledge that Ginsberg's words had anything to do with his own time-- when the connection is obvious. At no time, of course, did they mention a major influence on the poem, Kenneth Rexroth's "Thou Shalt Not Kill," a poem which is just as strong yet is celebrated no place.
And what's up with Shinder, anyway? Before the ULA's spring "Howl" protest at Columbia University, eight months ago, establishment attack dog Phillip Lopate, in a letter to me, had Shinder dying, very ill, using this as a reason for us to halt our plans. Jason Shinder sounded fine on the radio, as he looked fine (except for his evil facial expressions) when we saw him earlier this year on stage.
What one can say about "Howl" is that the poem has been neutered. The cultural establishment, embodiment of this nation's upper classes, has the work well in hand. It sits politely on the coffee table in a large room in one of their airy houses, next to a tray of bon-bons. They look at it gratefully, knowing the work is now completely harmless.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Catching Up on Reading
Prepster Meghan O'Rourke of Slate, an Insider icon who wouldn't know anything underground if she fell down a manhole, asks the question, "Whatever Happened to the Avant-Garde?" The scope of her essay extends all the way up to 1992! Mentioned by her as purveyors of "a do-it-yourslf ethos" and "a distaste for commercialism" are such conglomerate house pets as Mary Gaitskill, Tama Janowitz, and Dennis Cooper. Say what? The goal of all three was always and forever will remain to be commercial. Scarcely one of them had a "do-it-yourself" moment in their lives regarding their art, though I'm sure all of them give good blow jobs. (Nice to see a recent photo of Tama in Vanity Fair sporting some recent plastic surgery work.)
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
-A look at a great new Yul Tolbert illustrated daily comic strip.
-Wred Fright's new book.
-"Lessons in Lit": My four-part course on how to be a better writer or poet (from a reader's point-of-view). The four parts, in tentative order:
1.) "Fixing Franzen."
2.) "Marginalized Poetry."
3.) "Two Good Poets."
4.) "Walsh the Poet."
I'll be posting an excerpt from my Detroit novel. . . .
Saturday, November 18, 2006
The subtitle harks back not just to The Autobiography of Malcolm X, but to the autobiography of Frederick Douglass-- the shocking importance of which, in its day, was that ex-slave Douglass was speaking for HIMSELF. Remember the theme of the work-- that what Douglass most embraced was the ability and need to read and write. This revolutionary act gave him equality with anyone. Douglass proved by his writings, his speeches, and his life that he was the equal of any white person.
Empowerment was the message of these two powerful autobiographies. The much-hyped 2006 version gives the opposite message: that the paternalistic rich white man in the person of B'wana Dave Eggers is back in control. "I'm here to help." (The White Man's Burden.) B'wana Dave carts the embodiment of "Victim" from interview to interview as if they were ventriloquist and puppet, while the liberal print media applauds.
Dave Eggers is the darling of boozhie (street slang) lit critics because this ultimate boozhie is an example to them that it's hip to be rich and corporate. Everything he does has an air of unreality about it. He's crafted to be a savior of generosity and benevolence; his image washed in a special glow. The insanity of the man is that he rigorously protects this image from everything resembling a real human being; from hints of anger and flaws; criticism against him consistently steamrolled. Insanity-- or shrewd marketing.
Friday, November 17, 2006
Thursday, November 16, 2006
I have a couple large posts upcoming, but will also be focused in the next couple weeks on helping to build infratsructure for the ULA, to help the launch of books like the one depicted. A lot happening. (Check out the ULA Book Review at www.ulabookreview.blogspot.com -- editor Victor Schwartzman is doing a bang-up job.)
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Monday, November 13, 2006
Sitting in Dempsey's Bar
New York City Irish pub
I'm honoring Dylan
the real one
who died of drinking
four days and fifty-three years
Does time fly?
It zooms. . . .
100 miles an hour
rocks glass rolling across the bar
whiskey gone too fast
"Bartender, get me another!"
I had a dream of
many of them
at a prostitute druggie hotel
I once used to live in
"Treat them kindly!"
the madam barks.
"Treat them rough and we'll rough YOU up
Ten times over.
Be nice and they'll be nice."
Yes, they're nice
Women are heaven
Even the madam with the bulldog face
soft creature after all
A real softie; easy touch
Beneath the iron.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
I'm glad to see recognized somewhere the enormous importance and influence Rexroth had-- and has-- to American literature. Kenneth Rexroth is one of America's best essayists and greatest poets.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Say what you will about the 1950s, but they were a time of great poetry; an era when poetry mattered to people.
The great Kenneth Rexroth wrote a memorial poem for Dylan Thomas. He called it "Thou Shalt Not Kill." It remains relevant today. A couple excerpts:
"They are murdering all the young men.
For half a century now, every day,
They have hunted them down and killed them.
They are killing them now."
The hyena with polished face and bow tie,
In the office of a billion dollar
Corporation devoted to service;
The vulture dripping with carrion,"
It's one of the most powerful poems I've ever read.
Ever read the poem, Miss Snark? Have you other Miss Snarks of the literary world read it?
You should read the poem. Read it. It was written to you.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
1.) In mainstream publishing, the most powerless, least respected person is the writer or artist himself. The writer is at the bottom of the totem pole, grateful to be published at all. He or she is in the position of supplicant, with no real power or voice over the artwork. (Not even Jon Franzen had it, as he found.)
With the ULA, the artist is valued-- and calls the shots. We're all writers in one form or another, even our publishers like Jeff Potter and Pat Simonelli. We understand what Do-It-Yourself is about.
2.) The mainstream is looking for "normal" writers; those sober individuals willing and able to play by the rules. The entire process is set-up to weed out the different voice; the wacked-out, outcast, or outraged person. The Underground Literary Alliance embraces such persons-- we know that's where artistic genius is to be found.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Friday, November 03, 2006
Man with Shopping Basket
As he makes his daily journeys downtown, displaying the cart at strategic locations, accompanying his message by speeches to nobody, not a person goes near him, as he's obviously crazy. Obviously!
Yet in his screaming maladjusted intensity, is the man really so different from a Sean Hannitty or Ted Kennedy, though with less glamorous trappings? I ask myself if he's really much different from me.
I can't say I've ever fit into bourgeois society. My family couldn't. . . .
I became interested in literature on one of my down cycles; began producing a mad couple-page newsletter on a manual typewriter bought in a resale shop in Detroit's Cass Corridor, at a time in the early 90's when I was knocking down a bottle a day. "New Philistine." Angry bedraggled literary crank-- I was that, which didn't mean I had nothing to say.
Much has been written about the outsider in art and society. ULAers are literary outsiders-- true outsiders carrying a profound alienation toward society, and toward today's corrupt literary system which is a reflection of society. Our mad noise, like the noise of the homeless man with the shopping basket, comes from the streets, is the sound of anger, pain, outrage, alienation, and reality.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
The Point About Kerry
Because blueblood Kerry had his path into Yale paved for him, he naively believed that all his fellow rich kids were there because they were society's smartest-- or studied the hardest! If this man doesn't understand the structure and workings of his own society, then why in the world should he be expected to lead this country?
This is a nation scarred by class. Even the status-quo's most right-wing apologists like Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly beneath their angry distorted want-to-believe-in the-dream arguments are in fact through the history of their lives badly scarred by class. The divide between rich and poor has never been greater in my lifetime. For twenty-five years we've seen a transfer of mpney from the poor to the rich; the lower classes falling behind while the top levels accummulate more wealth. Those who benefit from this live in an aristocratic bubble. This includes our officially-sanctioned writers.
Our culture shows a society on the verge of deluge. Movies by well-connected daughters celebrate the world of Marie Antoinette while the literary world is increasingly populated with daughters of privilege like Marisha Pessl or by fop-wannabes like John Hodgman or Lord Whimsy. Realities of the society aren't being covered.
What writers are there to cover them when the lit-world's approved writers, agents, and editors come from the select bastions of privilege like Columbia, Princeton, Brown, Harvard, and Yale? They graduate wearing blinders, seeing the world through stereotypes. Their only recognition of class reduces it to caste. Like Ex-Brown student Rachel Aviv, who interviewed Patrick King and myself for Poetry Foundation, they see all poor people as black and all black people as poor; unable to believe that there are desperately struggling whites also in this nation. (An increasing number of them.) These students and ex-students should be used guides for nothing-- least of all literature, which at its best serves to speak unflinching knowledgeable experienced truth.
This country would be better off if we tore down this society's elitist institutions, the most undemocratic entities in America which serve to maintain an aristocratic mentality-- represented by John Kerry-- including a sadly decayed and dying aristocratic literature.
Within the last week I've seen two very talented Philly bands:
-the multi-dimensional Hydrogen Jukebox, fronted by crazy magician-dissident Eric "Jelly Boy the Clown" Broomfield;
-on Halloween night, at Afro Pick at the Rotunda, the Mighty Paradocs: two beautiful young women of color (one black; one beige) doing a punk/hip-hop hybrid, screaming out words of rebellion while jumping around the stage in front of an out-of-control audience. "Pissy Politicians" was one of the highlights.
There are other great bands and musicians in just this city (or frequent visitors like Don McCloskey) who are pushing the envelope of music, words, and radicalism.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
For instance, stories emanating about U of Penn's campus here in Philadelphia have a mythical aspect to them-- though they may indeed be real. We hear stories of millions of dollars granted to the place by various federal government departments-- from Homeland Security to study the terrorist mindset; from the Defense Department; from the CIA. We hear tales of genetic engineering experiments gone awry.
Which brings me to a mythical letter the ULA has received purporting to be from U of Penn! It tells the story of a joint project between the genetic engineering folks and their MFA program. The project's intent: To create from a test-tube and a laboratory the perfect automatonic academic poet. Indeed, the wording in the letter seems to claim that such a person-- if you could call it a person-- already exists. They refer to "him"(?) as "SuperPoet."
Why would these scary people bother us with this information?
Apparently they read my post about Frank Walsh possibly being "The World's Greatest Poet." They note that ULA world headquarters is in the vicinity of U of Penn (as Penn sprawls across the entire city, everything is in the vicinity of it). We're uncomfortably close.
Their thinking: How could we have the World's Greatest Poet, living in Philadelphia, when they've just spent millions of dollars to articificially create such a being?
How will this situation be resolved? Is the SuperPoet for real?
I sense the idea of an upcoming Poetry Read-Off in the air.
Monday, October 30, 2006
Quote for CLMP
-Ford Madox Ford, 1937
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Easy winner this month is MITCH ALBOM; a strong candidate for Demi-Puppet of the Year, or the Millennium.
Mitch has shown how a writer with modest connections can become wildly successful by sucking up to, stepping-on, and using everyone he's encountered. He started as a piano player; became a sports writer who wrote sycophantic books for or about every available pro-corporation general manager or coach, and egregiously backed every anti-public local Detroit corporate sports maneuver (the firing of Ernie Harwell; the abandonment of Tiger Stadium). Albom was Detroit's #1 corporate sports whore BEFORE he abandoned his fellow guild members and left them literally in the cold; BEFORE he opportunistically jumped on someone else's story about one of Mitch's dying ex-professors; BEFORE he was caught plagiarizing for one of his sports columns.
Now he's the apt choice to be promoted by the most ruthless of all corporate monopoly-wannabes-- STARBUCKS-- whose standard business practice is to open new coffeeshops as close as possible to thriving independent ones, to take their business away. Starbucks wants not most of the market, but ALL of it.
To top it off, Mitch Albom is a writer completely without talent. His novels are execrable. As with "Morrie," they pander to the desperate thoughts of the grieving, the sick, and the old. (Mitch Albom is akin to one of those con-men you hear about on TV ripping-off vulnerable seniors.) Mitch cynically used the sports world; he used Morrie; he'll use anybody.
SPEAKING OF RIP-OFFS
Plenty of runner-ups for this month's award are to be found in the ranks of guests at this week's CLMP Literary Writers Conference. (www.clmp.org) Names like Jill Bialosky and Paula Dietz who received my mailing about the CLMP board takeover (www.literaryrevolution.com; "Monday Report" archives) yet haven't said anything about the matter, publicly or privately. They're unable to defend their actions.
I'll choose one name among the herd as official Demi-Puppet Runner-Up: LESLIE SCHWARTZ of CLMP and PEN USA, because she poses most prominently as a voice against injustice while being one more enabler of today's literary aristocracy.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
THE FIRST release of the new ULA BOOKS imprint will soon be out. The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus by Wred Fright is a tale of the misadventures of a college rock band. It's "pop" in the best sense: endlessly readable and entertaining.
Who's the book written for? For the PUBLIC; for regular folks of all stripes and backgrounds; not for literary mandarins. Our chief goal in promoting the novel will be to reach beyond complacent literary gatekeepers in order to reach that public directly. This is how we'll achieve success.
My own take on the place can be found on a August 19, 2005 post on this blog.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
A lit-blogger sent me an e-mail claiming I "hate" other literary people. Hate? No, in truth I love literature and by extension all writers; all those who attempt the art. By pointing out the corruption which does exist, I'm trying to save the art. I have nothing personally against anyone-- not even a Rick Moody, who wasn't a particular target until he accepted a grant which should have gone to someone else.
All the ULA asked from him was that he give the funds back. He clearly didn't need them. We asked him to acknowledge the existence of writers in this society who are struggling to have their work published, struggling in many cases simply to live-- who the money would have better gone to. If he wants peace now, I'm sure we'll settle for less. Let him demonstrate his principles, on what side he's on, and come out publicly against the transformation of CLMP's board.
The ULA campaign is based on the premise that I and my compatriots understand what's wrong with literature today-- that we understand better than others what's wrong. That we know more about literature and what it can and should accomplish than the well-schooled. Our confidence is based on our reading, our independence, and our LIVES-- if anything should be a reflection of life and the reality of our times it's literature.
Those who dispute our attitude and our claims had better engage us. Relying on the fact you have a degree from Harvard or Princeton or Brown, and expecting us to bow to your credentials, isn't good enough. We're in a new world now. If that degree-- or those connections-- have meaning you'd better show it.
But, if you can't contest our ideas with reasoned words and coherent arguments-- then how good are you?
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
World's Greatest Poet?
He already has the writing. He's long had the writing-- in sound and meaning creating better verse than any poet alive today. Through analysis of his work, I intend to show what Frank Walsh does which places his poetry on a higher level than that of the legions of fakirs present on all sides right now.
In fact, I will challenge poets of any stripe or brand to dispute my arguments. (Stay tuned.)
In the last three years Walsh has steadily improved as a speaker and performer (he was already good) until now there are few who can touch him. (You no doubt witnessed the strength of his voice on our "Howl Protest" video.)
Coming soon: Frank Walsh taking the totality of his art to a whole other level. Tour and bookings to follow.
Friday, October 20, 2006
scattered outside the saloon,
dots of red yellow green
swirling spinning blanket of color and noise
night time freshness
too many beers,
vomited now in the gutter.
Rain or sweat?
Calling voices vanished behind,
friends and foes,
laughing beauty, smoke and echoing music,
walking with shifting feet
the long journey home.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Age of Ashberry
Ashberry has been the establishment's chief pet poet for more than forty years now. His work is and has always been little more than competent; mildly interesting at best. After 45 years it's the same-old same-old.
What has poetry gained during his tenure as the face of the art?
When Ashberry started writing in the 1950's, poetry was relevant and popular. Recall that musicians Bob Dylan and the Beatles took their names from POETS-- such was the real prestige of the art form then. Who today knows the name Dylan Thomas? (The Beatles went so far as to borrow his interview technique with reporters, when their time came for the spotlight.)
The Age of Ashberry has been a total failure, yet the lit-establishment continues to promote him. Richard Nason's "Modern Dunciad" denounced Ashberry's influence in 1978! Now Nason is dead and forgotten, while mediocre Ashberry continues on.
This is a victory for no one.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Farewell to CBGB's
The Underground Literary Alliance has its piece of CBGB's history, in that its attached room, CB's Gallery, was the site of our original press conference, which turned into a display of verbal fireworks. February 8, 2001. A report about this incident, "Open Bar, Open Debate," was long on CBGB's web site. It remains one of the most exciting literary events ever.
Monday, October 16, 2006
House of Lies Part I
It's not so much the takeover of CLMP which proves this, as the reaction to the exposure of this story: dead silence.
It's one example of many. Explain to me how editors who refuse to print letters questioning status quo premises are different from Soviet bureaucrats?
The Underground Literary Alliance is airbrushed out of today's literary scene. We're the unmentionables; Trotsky removed from the literary photograph.
An example: The New York Sun recently published a review by Benjamin Lytal of Jonathan Franzen's new book. Lytal listed the controversies Franzen's been involved in through his career: the dispute over going on Oprah's TV show; a couple essays he'd written which supposedly ruffled a literary feather or two.
One scandal, however, was curiously missing from Lytal's list: Franzen's acceptance of a NEA grant given by a panel which included his friend Rick Moody, at a time when Franzen was raking in a million dollars from the success of his novel. This story, first given light by the ULA, was carried by dozens of newspapers.
Now this scandal has been removed from the memory banks-- when it was the one Franzen scandal of significance; an example of real corruption; a matter of more import than Franzen's superficial tabloid dispute with Oprah.
(The ULA crossed swords with Franzen again in January 2004, when he told the New York Times, falsely; slanderously; that we were posting anonymous reviews on Amazon. The Times story revealed this as not true. We're still waiting for Franzen's apology.)
Much bigger literary scandals have been permanently removed from the lit-world's memory banks. Here's one: In the late 1980's and early 90's, billionaire Jean Stein, who bought Grand Street from Ben Sonnenberg, was receiving yearly NEA grants for the publication. Scarce taxpayer arts money going to a billionaire! I wrote about this in New Philistine, and sent a letter about the matter to then-NEA director Jane Alexander. Ms. Alexander (who may have known Jean Stein from their Hollywood days-- Ms. Stein the daughter of the founder of MCA, which owned Universal Pictures) replied to me in a letter of bureaucratic doublespeak, to the effect that "perceived need or lack thereof" was not a criterion for awards. Which of course left the door open to give taxpayer money to billionaires! Members of the Club and all that.
Grand Street stopped receiving NEA grants anyway, which was to the good. The main point of this incident isn't the mindless greed of those involved, but that the story has never been mentioned by the literary world. Ever. Easy indeed then to say there's no corruption in the lit-world when all examples are airbrushed out of the photograph!
RICK MOODY REHAB CAMPAIGN
Established literature has made a large investment in selling Rick Moody as a hip writer. Does anyone remember when Details magazine ran a monthly cartoon feature about Moody and his adventures as a writer? His egoism allowed him to take all this promotion for granted as his natural due. Given the investment in him, and his position in the literary hierarchy, as manifested in his roles in organizations like Yaddo, PEN, Young Lions, and so on, attempts are continually made to restore his luster, while airbrushing his questionable actions out of the picture. The fawning Robert Birnbaum interview with him was not even the most egregious example. (Birnbaum is the Sgt. Schultz of literature: "I see nothing. Nothing!")
With Rick Moody's reputation in tatters from a string of ULA stories covered by N.Y. Post's "Page Six," the Dale Peck description of Moody as "the worst writer of his generation" was picked-up by the literary media and run with. Note the result: as with Jon Franzen, actual documented misdeeds were channeled into a matter of opinion; a personality dispute. Dale Peck-- not the ULA-- became the face of criticism of Rick Moody. The ULA was taken conveniently out of the photograph, Peck inserted instead.
It became an easy matter then to discredit Peck, as there was no substance to his attack on Moody to begin with. Peck had left the substance out of his article. Dale Peck was blown into smithereens, criticism of Rick Moody along with it. The issue settled, apparently, the road lay open for Moody's quick rehabilitation. Bizarrely, he continued to appear on grants panels-- the LAST person who should ever be in that role. We found him recently posturing as a rebel in a foreword of a Soft Skull Press book. After all, he's a "hip" writer don't ya know.
(To be continued.)
Saturday, October 14, 2006
The World of Wred Fright
If this man knocked on your door, would you let him in?
I hope you'll allow in Wred's soon-to-be-released ULA Novel, THE PORNOGRAPHIC FLABBERGASTED EMUS. (G-Rated!)
Here's what the critics are saying:
"Reads like Truman Capote on speed while in a rock band."
Wred Fright: As much fun as any three establishment writers.
To order your advance copy, watch the ULA site at:
Friday, October 13, 2006
Starbucks and Albom
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Students laugh at the idea that people then couldn't see what was right in front of their eyes. "Unbelievable," they say. "What conformity!"
After class they sigh. "Imagine-- being at the forefront of artistic rebellion and difference. Going a totally new way. Not accepting the mainstream. Being a leading member of a real new artistic movement! How great it would be to be part of something like that. Those were such exciting times-- not like now."
The students shake their heads regretfully, then hurry so not to be late to their next scheduled class.
I thought of how rare it was for a plane to go completely out of control like that. I thought of the rare occasions cars on our roads and expressways go out of control. Every day, millions of encounters, vehicles side by side by side, inches away but only very rarely touching.
Our adaptable minds are contructed to fit into patterns of systems, including those which enable our highways. It's our conformist mentality-- not so much the narrow highways themselves-- which allow this.
Why do we think our minds operate differently in other situations? Our brains are trained to discover a comfortable groove and fit into it. This is certainly the case with the literary industry, whose members believe the myth of their own independence, while traveling conformist highways of universities and bureaucratic offices. We've seen with the CLMP affair these people unable to jump their minds out of their grooves of conformity in order to view their own system from the outside.
Systems are great for pigeons, airplanes, and cars, but detrimental to the creation of new art.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Where Is It?
Has CLMP become a secret society?
Have they mobilized to prevent a demonstration of ULA free speech?
How do conference attendees find out where to go when the date arrives?
I imagine those who've paid their $350 will receive by certified mail a decoder device to attach to their Internet screens. On the evening of November 1st-- the night before the conference-- at precisely 10 p.m., a number will flash: "WWXSCGBD." The person must punch this code in then be prepared to instantaneously memorize the specific location. (The attendee instructed upon penalty of lifetime literary banishment not to disclose the secret location to anybody.)
The CLMP organizers are afraid to expose their writers to literary dissent or contrary ideas-- anything which would disturb the intensity of their brainwashing.
As the reach of Starbucks swept across the entirety of the central city-- the familiar green sign on almost every streetcorner-- local observers were surprised to see a reversal of the trend: the opening of a new coffee shop! A coffee shop not like Starbucks at all.
On a cluttered sidestreet, the new business had dark psychedelic lighting splashing over darkly colorful wall hangings, accompanied by psychedelic music from 60's bands like Love, The Electric Prunes, and The Outsiders. No white walls or blonde wood anyplace! Thick walls covered by thick red and purple paint. No computer portals! On a table near an entrance, actual books of an old and dusty nature which one could read at rickety black tables by turning on muted reading lamps. Behind the counter: the curly-haired hippy proprietor; youthful; beaming; welcoming.
A hip young crowd eager for authentic difference quickly crowded the place. The proprietor looked upon them with bemusement as they strafed him with questions. "What do you think about the war?" they asked.
He gave them a smile of fascinated grace.
"I think it sucks," he told them matter-of-factly. "All wars suck." He poured a customer a coffee. "Whoa!" he told another person at a complicated order involving whipped cream and cherries. "What do you think this is? Keep it simple."
His customers loved him.
One evening they heard The Pixies then Siouxsie and the Banshees playing in the cafe. Find that at Starbucks!
A young couple named Jenny and Josh were among the best customers. Self-styled political activists, they loved the idea of real alternatives to corporate chains.
"Everything is a chain," Josh affirmed one evening. "Where are the local businesses? CVS; Applebee's; Kinko's. Decisions made on high by suits in corporate board rooms. Starbucks may be the worst of them, but it's not alone."
"This is such a great outpost," Jenny said. "The only independent coffeeshop in town!"
Josh and Jenny were among the special few allowed to join the proprietor, who was named Eli, in "The Den." The Den was a small room downstairs where the day-glo avant-garde motif, including green sofas, was even more intense. A few local students had been hired to allow Eli to take breaks. Unlike at Starbucks, employees wore no uniforms.
"This is just so, so great," Jenny gushed one evening to Eli. "Very unique. You should be proud."
"Yes, it's a great idea," Eli gently answered.
Much speculation existed among the customers about Eli. They knew he was from the far west. Some thought he was an artist; others, a writer. One person guessed Eli was likely a failed doctoral student; "He seems the type."
Eli's usual reply to questions about himself was a benevolent smile. The closest he'd come to describing his past or his education was a mention of a "training program." "He's a pioneer," Jenny had said. "That's all we need to know."
"What's your field?" Josh good-naturedly asked him now, curiosity burning a hole in him. "What's your education? How did you get into the coffee business? Do you enjoy it as much as you appear to?"
"Yes!" Eli answered. He fumbled for words. "I was kind of a vagabond. They gave me focus."
His eyes looked around the colorful room as his arms spread wide to take in his new friends.
"I'm gratified," he added.
"You should be!" Jenny told him, feeling extraordinary sympathy for the man. "This place is a smashing success. Everyone loves it. You have them in retreat in this town."
Eli was briefly confused. "Retreat? Who?" he asked.
"Well, you know," Jenny said. "Starbucks."
Eli laughed. "You mean you don't know? This is their idea. One of the first of its kind, which will be replicated around the country, exactly, I'm told: again and again. And again and again and again. This coffeeshop is owned by Starbucks."
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
A Rival League
PEOPLE HAVE QUESTIONED whether the ULA is anti-business, based on our attacks on the monopolistic business that is literature today.
We're not at all anti-business. We're creating a new way for writers to conduct business, that's all, drawing from DIY philosophy. OUR business will have no skyscraper hierarchies; no well-bred overpaid Morgan Entrekins in posh offices making decisions for and about writers who dangle helplessly like puppets outside his office window.
Morgan stares at statistical sheets. Outside, a feeble voice: "Please publish me!" Entrekin hears nothing.
By not looking for America's authentic voices, the book corporations narrow their choices to a list of manufactured homogenized writers who in background and training are basically the same.
The Underground Literary Alliance is designed to compete with them. We're an upstart league. "ULA; ULA!" Our league will rise or fall based on the quality of our product; the players on the field.
A Question: Who's presenting the authentic voice of America now; the book giants, or us?
The giants hand people mainly the inauthentic sound of a well-screened sliver of 10% of the population. Everything else belongs to us; writers working traveling struggling and surviving amid the populace.
Do we really want imitation wit (more a half-wit) John Hodgman representing our culture? Really? Is there substance to his work? Reality? Humanity? Doesn't his book fall apart into meaningless pieces after the first amused look at it?
Writers like Hodgman aren't even a pimple on the ass of North American life. They represent themselves; a tiny secluded McSweeneyite clique of witty literati congregated at a table at the front of an exclusive cafe; sitting in a sound-proof room with heavy drapes over the windows shutting out the merest glimpse of streets and life. Isolated; preserved; preening; destined only to be museum pieces.
COMING SOON is a novel by one of the ULA's own humorists: Wred Fright. His novel is about the adventures of a Falstaffian cast of characters in a Midwestern rock band. The humor is broader than Hodgman's. It represents the broadness, the noise, the insanity, the hilarity of contemporary American life.
Glad to hear that! I hope she believes this regarding this country's literary world.
Can we expect acknowledgement in the Nation of my recent ULA "Monday Reports" (www.literaryrevolution.com) anytime soon?
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Some teams are talented, organized, and ambitious (Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys). Some are bad (Detroit Lions-- the Ford family running another enterprise into the ground). Others (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) are horrendous.
But what about literary teams? The Underground Literary Alliance has created one full of exciting new stars. We're ready to challenge the best of the conglomerates with our words and ideas. So far none of their best are willing to meet us in competition.
Who can they put forward?
One envisions a full stadium. From out of the tunnel, dressed and ready to go, with uniform spotlessly clean, the monopolists' brightest star: John Hodgman! From the tunnel on the other side of the field emerges a leading ULA writer; bearded, earthy, grubby-- Wild Bill Blackolive! Hodgman stops halfway through his run, glances for an instant, turns around and is seen scampering fast into the tunnel from where he came as the crowd screams madly for him to come back.
Friday, October 06, 2006
Distorting the Message
This happens again and again-- most notably in Bruno Maddox's Black Book Magazine article on us which was riddled with falsehoods-- such as the idea that George Plimpton "beckoned us into" the literary realm, when the truth is that we beckoned HIM into our show, at an open-bar press conference paid for by us. Old Literary Lion George was merely courageous enough, (unlike younger members of his peer group since) to meet us to exchange words and ideas. Or maybe he couldn't turn down a free offer. (He and his staff left the venue like whipped pups, but that's another matter.)
Demi-puppets now can only distort. And so, our protests buttressed by facts, arguments, and position papers filled with evidence-- as with our "Howl" action-- are dismissed as "drunken heckling." THEY engage in name-calling and personal attacks; not us.
The most blatant example of distortion was in a 3/18/2004 article by Edward Keenan on the www.eye.net site. He portrays our questions about Ben Greenman's "tree" story as being about simply that. (Or, as a lit-blogger also distorted, the story supposedly wasn't "transgressive" enough.)
Yet what we were asking for when we visited a big Insider event at Housing Works in January 2003 was a discussion about the looming war. We gave the tree story as an example of irrelevance-- at a time when our society was facing a much larger event; something certainly more meaningful to write about. Going to war-- a mighty, tragic thing with enormous implications which need to be thought about before the irreversible step is made. A step which has to be addressed by the society's "best and brightest"-- which used to mean, society's writers. In his piece, Edward Keenan mentions none of this-- though he had access to our own write-ups of that night.
Can anyone today argue that our concern wasn't right-- that THEN was the time to organize noise about the war, instead of behaving like unconcerned aristocrats at a ball?
The sad part of it all is that they're still at the ball, quaintly snickering or gushing over the foppish silliness of a John Hodgman while the Deluge awaits outside. . . .
Writers on the Radio
Both men represent everything wrong with established literature. Their interviews verified this.
What would a non-literary person think about hearing Franzen taking large gulps of air, like a flailing fish, while attempting to put his jigsawed thoughts into one piece; a mish-mash of foggy-glassed confusion over the trivialities of a gentrified life? Few signs of intelligence-- much less energy, passion, or purpose of a kind to pull listeners like me away from sports radio. It was more a chapter of a Terri Gross therapy encounter.
Hodgman on the radio is worse. The smugness of an empty-brained apple polisher substituting "cute" for "smart" and getting away with it. During the part I listened to, he took shots at "anarchists" and dismissed the idea of a homeless writer. "How can someone be homeless and still have e-mail?"
Newsflash, Sherlock: Every day scores of homeless people use the Internet on computers at the Philadelphia Free Library, the very place where yesterday you were scheduled to read! No wonder you wrote a book about nonsense. Unlike said homeless writers (several ULAers at various times have been homeless), you clearly know little about this society-- which leaves you with nothing to write about except childish made-up stuff which appeals to intellectual five year-olds.
Apt that this smarmy poser is one of today's most prominent literary figures.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Who Covered It?
Why not? What does their silence indicate?
Has Maud Newton, who likes to post tons of verbiage on her blog, said anything? How can she, when she herself will be a participant in the scam $350 writers conference? (To "confer" assumes a rough equality between the parties-- at least not complete subserviance on the part of one of them. This "conference" is a one-way street.)
Individuals like Maud of course aren't writers. They're apparatchiks. Our literary system has the characteristics of the Soviet literary system back in the day. Contentious ideas are just as likely to be brought to life.
(When the first part of the Report went up on the ULA site, I mailed out over 90 flyers to various lit-folk and organizations summarizing my findings. I haven't seen a response from them to date. When I can, I'll begin listing these people. Insularity bordering on corruption needs to be dragged into the light of day.)
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
To date: Silence, including from two staffers-- Leslie Schwartz and Jay Nicorvo-- who are involved with that bastion of free expression, PEN. But do they really believe their own ideals?
(More to come about the failure of lit people to cover this story-- and what it means about the state of literature at this time.)
Report still at: www.literaryrevolution.com
Saturday, September 30, 2006
HOW THE ESTABLISHED LITERARY WORLD REALLY WORKS.
The Concept of Literary Assigned Value may take place only in the subconscious of the lit-world, but it's there.
Points are assigned to writers based on a mix of variables:
G.) PREDICTABLE WRITING STYLE.
No doubt one of the highest scores ever recorded was by Susan Minot. My guess would be in the 95-100 range.
Examine the evidence when she broke into public consciousness in the mid-1980s.
BACKGROUND: Connecticut blue-blood Old Money.
SCHOOLS: Prep school; Brown; Columbia.
CONNECTIONS: Quick connections made with Insiders like Robert Silvers and Ben Sonnenberg.
MANNERS: Well-bred. Highest score.
CONFORMITY: Without question.
WRITING STYLE: A competent-enough imitation of Ray Carver. Some of her short stories were fairly decent, within their strict limitations. Her ability, anyway, was adequate enough to justify the ensuing hype. There was at least SOMETHING there.
We see a similar case today with Marisha Pessl. One can envision her editors: "Well, it's not all that bad, is it? Derivative, pretentious; but not completely bad. It LOOKS like it's a good novel, on the surface, even if it isn't."
Now, for contrast, examine the score for a typical ULAer: Jack Saunders.
BACKGROUND: Low-rent 300-pound 65 year-old redneck cracker from Georgia.
SCHOOLS: At least has schooling, unlike some ULAers, though in a field strictly unrelated to literature.
CONNECTIONS: Zero, obviously.
LOOKS: See "BACKGROUND."
MANNERS: See "BACKGROUND."
CONFORMITY: Not politically correct. See "BACKGROUND."
P.W.S.: His work is totally unique. Very original. Lowest score.
Though Jack once famously received a "0" from an arts grants committee, under L.A.V. he achieves a total score of "3"; points given for "SCHOOLS," though they weren't the right ones.
Many ULAers (Joe Pachinko, for instance) score even lower.
A hapless but willing ordinary demi-puppet like Henry Baum will score 25-30, most of the points given under "CONFORMITY."
Some demi-puppets, Lee Klein for instance, familiar with the game find various ways to bump-up their ratings, through getting to know Famous Writers, MFA degrees from Iowa, and the like.
Susan Minot's sister, Eliza, carries a high L.A.V., though her writing is less than negligible. How else but through L.A.V. was she able to get recent attention in both New York Times Magazine and the New York Times Book Review?
Publishers like Morgan Entrekin likely have the L.A.V. formula handy at their desks-- or at least in their heads.
(How to determine L.A.V.: award 0-14 points in each category. Grant two bonus points if the writer's photograph has appeared in The New Yorker.)
That's L.A.V.! Simple enough. Aspiring writers, save the $200 classes at writers conferences, like the one upcoming at Penn. The L.A.V. formula is all you need to know.
New Monday Report
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Thursday, September 28, 2006
DEMI-PUPPET OF THE MONTH!
Hands-down the September winner, the person who's done the most for status quo literature; who's made himself most subservient; is Jeffrey Lependorf, who has overseen the takeover of his own small press organization, CLMP, by the monopolies. (Part II of this story is upcoming at www.literaryrevolution.com
the ULA fan site.)
Richard "Beau" Nash of Soft Skull finishes in Second Place. When Jeffrey Lependorf said "Jump," Beau Nash quickly obliged. ("Give one of my own writers that assignment? A small press person writing about the small press? Can't do that. Bring on the Big Guys!")
We'll give Honorable Mention to Whitney Pastorek of Time-Warner for her mass e-mail, for all those who say we don't give enough attention to female demi-puppets. Wear the award proudly!
Finishing once again far out of the money, to his own shame and chagrin, is Lit-Machine Hatchet Man Phillip Lopate. Keep trying!
("Whino the Cat" portrays Whitney Pastorek. Portraits of Lependorf, Nash, and Lopate are unavailable at this time.)
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
The Matter of Tao
1.) Foremost is the matter of blackballing a writer, as Whitney may have sought to do by sending out a mass e-mail to others when Tao broke one of her publishing rules.
How often does this kind of thing go on? How often has it been done regarding the Underground Literary Alliance? Anyone with inside knowledge care to comment?
2.) Tao's solution for dishonesty in the literary world is to meet it with more dishonesty, accompanied by self-serving statements about engaging in "civil disobedience." (Couldn't Nasdiij and J.T. Leroy say the same thing? They probably have.)
Tao's actions, however rationalized, will hurt writers, not help them. He breaks any bond between independent writer and independent editor. Whitney's request for first publication of all work may have been unfair, ill-advised, and misguided, but it was her request and she was upfront about it. Tao ignored it in the pursuit of his own self-interest, with fancy gloss put over it.
This, at a time when the small press is being swallowed up by bigger fish, when they're modeling themselves on corporate practices. Whitney, already total captive of the monopolies (intellectually and in fact) will run to CLMP. They'll tell her: "Contracts!"
Conglomerates require a contract for everything, which results in overlegalized, overregulated literature. It leads to heavyweight attorneys like those on CLMP's board calling too many shots.
I've operated without contracts throughout my ULA activities. Frankly, I've been burned because of it. Maybe I'm naive, too much of an anarchist, to believe we can be better than this; to believe that lit-folk can operate on a foundation of cooperation and trust.
When the writer shafts anyone who's trying to help him with a project, he's ultimately shafting himself. (Call it karma: a law of the universe.)
(I wonder if Tao has a contract with Melville House?)
3.) There's the question of basic dishonesty involving Tao Lin. I'm concerned because the ULA was burned in a small way last year by two writers who misrepresented themselves to us; who knew our outlook yet joined regardless, then resigned in a flurry of fury and sound without a hint of warning. (They quickly set about shafting each other.) One of these writers is a good friend of Tao's. Tao and his friend are both very prolific writers, sound and think alike, and for both the main concern beneath their posturing is to be published as often as possible: the out-of-control WILL I've spoken about-- all else subservient to the writer's single-minded progress.
(Tao Lin, incidentally, appeared at the same time the ULA dissension occurred-- one of his earliest appearances on this blog.)
4.) There remains to me the question of his identity. In this day of J.T. Leroys, it's a question which has to be asked. What's his backstory? Has he posted elsewhere before his sudden emergence as if born full-grown from the womb? Is he an Asian-American writer? Where does he get the time for so much blogging and writing-- a tremendous amount which is not found often? (I wish ULAers, who never suffer from writer's block, were that prolific.)
Questions and more questions. Anyone have any answers?
Monday, September 25, 2006
Member of the Club
Does he need the attention? Aristocratic Brit Hitchens writes for Vanity Fair and is a regular guest of right-wing talk show host Hugh Hewitt.
Meanwhile The Nation has never given one microdot of coverage to the Underground Literary Alliance, the most exciting literary group going. They've pointedly ignored our protests, e-mails, and mailings. Whose side are they on?
It shows that more important than ideology in this society is class-- being a proper Member of the Club.