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