Friday, March 30, 2007

"Dumbing Down"?

One of the dumber expressions heard in the literary scene is the notion that we or others are "dumbing down" writing by seeking to reach a broader audience. The expression is an oversimplification, the very thing it claims to attack.

Are folk songs a "dumbing down" of music-- or are they not a way of getting to the integral emotion, the basic expression of a people's voice?

Were very plain Beatles songs like "I'll Get You," "No Reply," and "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party" dumbed down? In their later songs, the band layered studio effects over the core of their art. Their early work was more vital, more energetic, more real than most of their later output.

Maybe the punk rebellion of the Ramones and Sex Pistols was a "dumbing down" of rock-- but a dumbing down of what? The overblown pretentiousness of bands like Emerson, Lake, and Palmer or Yes?

The ULA presents a wide variety of underground writing. Much of it-- Wild Bill's zeens or Frank Walsh's poetry-- like good modernist art, has much more to it than seems at first glance. Our two newest books, by Wred Fright and James Nowlan, are very different from each other and both very good.
The literary world of course is dominated by academy-trained intellectuals. Heedless of context, in whichever venue they write they wish to prove their intellectualism, and so produce even for disposable daily newspapers work better suited for university critical journals gathering dust on university library shelves. That these writers don't understand context and audience is a sign they're not as intelligent as they pretend. Instead they're well-trained followers whose training never left them. They write always inside the same box. Placing such writers within the cheap pop milieu of a newspaper is like dropping a polar bear into the jungles of Africa. An uncomfortable fit-- for the reader anyway.
Know this: Promoting good accessible writing has always been our goal. We believe the ULA can compete straight up with the big guys. (A quick perusal of mainstream novels I've received proves this.) We'll present fiction and poetry for everyone in this society but it won't be merely bad Bukowski knock-offs; it will be truly innovative, fun, challenging, or enlightening; more smart and truthful about what's happening in this world than refined status quo junk. It'll be good.

ULA Action!

What distinguishes the Underground Literary Alliance from all other lit groups is our incessant action-- action readings, action protests, action writing. Next to us, all others appear-- and are-- very tame. Since our founding, the Challenge has always been out there for other writers to publicly read against us or debate us. There have been few takers.

ULA Books

Just a reminder that two great new ULA books are out to show that we are indeed "Surfing the New Literary Wave" with writing which represents the future of lit.
Take a look at

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Movie Serial

(The continuing misadventures of a gang in the book business trying to consolidate and monopolize its position in a ruthless and primitively competitive urban landscape while taking on several rivals. Low budget. Black-and-white. Not on video or DVD.)

CHAPTER TWO: "Turf Wars."

"Pretty Boy" Bronson arrives in the anteroom of the Boss's huge office and takes a seat. He carries a portfolio of paperwork. Across from him waits The Kid, also with a portfolio. The Kid is sweating profusely and shaking a bit. "It's not good. It's not good," he says over and over. Bronson wonders what drug-of-choice The Kid is on this week.

"What happened?" Pretty Boy asks.

The Kid begins rambling. "I was ready to jump. It was the meds. No-- my girlfriend. We didn't get them. The warehouse bomb went off but we didn't get them. Not all of them anyway. Took out five I think-- maybe others. Their leader and a few more escaped. Our informant-- he's a screwball-- was wrong. The ULA yet lives."

The Kid takes a snot-covered handkerchief from his pocket and wipes his brow. Then his shaky eyes zero in on Bronson.

"Who's this new bodyguard the Boss has? I mean, I think that's what he is. He never says nothin'. The black guy. He just goes with the Boss everywhere like an unspeaking shadow."

"I don't know," Pretty Boy answers.

At that instant Boss Eggers appears in the corridor, silent bodyguard next to him. The two others realize he's heard every word. Boss Eggers shows no reaction. He nods to the bodyguard, who departs.

Eggers opens the door to his office. It's an entire soundstage, with an enormous desk-- fit for a gangland boss. Backdrop is a matte painting of the city of San Francisco. Eggers gazes possessively at the backdrop for a minute, as if he owns the world.

"Reports?" he asks while sitting in the leather chair behind the huge desk.

Pretty Boy, a former bond trader, knows the Manhattan landscape well. "They're moving into our territory," he says, reciting figures. "N+1 is pushing their stuff" ("stuff" said as if it were illegal whiskey) "on the shelf right next to ours!"

"Do we still have allies?" the Boss quizzes.

"Oh yeah, sure. Loads. Whitney and others like her. The rich boys of course."

Eggers's fist slams suddenly hard onto the desk, startling Pretty Boy, and The Kid also.

"Then motivate them!" Eggers shouts.

He takes a minute to calm himself. His eyes are very intense. The camera zooms in on them. Instantly he calms, as if nothing had occurred.

"We don't have even this town locked up 100%," he smirks in his cute-but-cynical postmodern way. "Show me who we've got in The Room."

The three men walk down a long and spooky corridor. With a ring of keys, The Kid unlocks a heavy steel door, then leaves them. Inside sits a man bound to a chair in the center of the naked room.

"Who is this creep?" Eggers asks. Pretty Boy consults a clipboard.

"He calls himself Ed Rants. A gangster wannabe-- playing the role around town for a couple months pretending to be a big shot. Got into a scuffle with Gessen and his boys. Note the black eye. We found him in a movie theater. Had seen four movies in a row. He blew his cover-- was complaining to the usher about stale popcorn! He's a goof."

Eggers frowns. Pretty Boy continues.

"We told him we'd have The Ogre play with his head. Note the photo."

On the wall opposite Rants, in plain view staring at Ed every minute, is a blown-up photograph of mob enforcer Daniel Handler, aka The Ogre. Rants looks at the photo. His eyes bulge from his head in terror. Unknown to him, Handler is already in New York to set up the coming visit. The Boss nods to Pretty Boy, who removes the gag from Rants's mouth.

"Sarvas is an idiot!" the man screams uncontrollably, saying what he thinks they want to hear. "Sarvas is an idiot!"

The gag is replaced. Boss Eggers glances at Pretty Boy, then laughs. Pretty Boy follows him from the room.

"When he begins to say," Eggers calmly tells his advisor, "'Gessen is an idiot,' then we'll know we've made progress."
NEXT CHAPTER: "The Literature Police."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Radio Taping

I'm sorting my impressions of last evening's "Live" taping.

Much disorienting about it:
1.) Being in Philly's "Green Zone." The Penn campus is a well-guarded island in the midst of the poverty, violence, and despair of West Philadelphia.
2.) Being around many attractive young women, a distraction from focus, without question.

The host, Erin Gautsche, was especially impressive, directing the event with bearing and command.

I'm still assessing those who operate within the system. (U of Penn is a system.) I don't know if they contemplate working outside the accepted and acceptable-- outside the rules, the walls. Within the system they're very confident and competent. Would that they weren't. The problem isn't them; it's the system itself.

(The show will be aired next Monday at 8 pm. I'll give a report on how the reading went before then.)

Friday, March 23, 2007

"War Hysteria!"

I intend to get up this weekend on the ULA Poetry and Fiction Blog ( a few excerpts from my zeen novel War Hysteria!, which I'll be reading from this Monday 7 p.m. at the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia.

War Hysteria! was created a week or two after 9/11 in 2001, capturing the mood of the moment. In hindsight it seems almost prophetic-- but really, anyone could've seen what was coming.

Then next week we'll be posting more great poetry from Frank Walsh, who'll be headlining the April 22 event, followed by great stuff from other writers.

(On this blog: Another movie serial chapter.)

Punks and Pirates

One of the problems we had in the ULA in recent months was of our own making, in that we allowed to stray into our ranks someone who turns out to be an active federal bureaucrat in Canada whose job is to enforce civility and conformity; a kind of manners cop. He's used to lecturing people about their behavior and words, backed by thick regulation and the power and weight of institutional law. Can you conceive of anyone less apt for this rebellious unregulated outspoken outfit? Bringing such a person into our group would be like dropping a priest onto a pirate ship. Not a good fit.

The Underground Literary Alliance is a product of the zeen revolution of the 1990's, whose major influence was the DIY "fuck you" attitude of the punk movement. This ethos was embedded like DNA into zeensters of every style, from Aaron Cometbus to Jim Goad to Violet Jones to Stephen Durst, as well as proliferations of riot-grrrls. Go through the versions of Factsheet 5 in the 80's and 90's, read about the zines described inside, and you'll see the major political force represented wasn't Republicans or Democrats, nor even Libertarians or Naderites, but anarchists. To slide in that direction is part and parcel of existing and writing fully outside the system; of being, truly, UNDERGROUND. Which is what the zine (zeen) revolution was about. (A Joshua Glenn or Tom Frank had only one foot in it.)

Of the six individuals who founded the ULA, three were steady readers of the ethical anarchism of Fred Woodworth: Michael, Joe Smith, and myself. A fourth, Doug Bassett, loathed mandated political correctness in all its forms. The other two, Ann and Steve, in their writings and their lifestyles were a living rejection of p.c. values. Uncivil nonconformists every one of us.

What I appreciated about Wild Bill Blackolive when I first encountered him was the idea that here was someone who knew exactly what he was doing with his work, knew his vision, and had allowed no one, no editor or publisher, or bureaucrat, to tell him what to do with it. Despite the cost. (The opposite of a conflicted conformist pet like Jonathan Franzen.)

I ask to be treated likewise. If I don't want even a "great writer" fucking around with my work, with my words, with my statements, why would I tolerate that from someone like the Canadian who writes at a fourth-grade level and whose mentality never left the bureaucratic office? To anyone who wants to tell me what I can or can't say on my own blog, I have these few words: Fuck you, and fuck you, and fuck you.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Sedaris Exposed?

An essay in the 3/19/07 issue of The New Republic by Alex Heard, "This American Lie," takes writer David Sedaris to task for apparently making up stuff in his book of "nonfiction" essays, Naked.

David Sedaris is not a fan of the Underground Literary Alliance. In 2005 he was involved, with Daniel Handler, in publicly chuckling in an issue of the now-defunct lit-journal The Ruminator over an obviously fake letter, signed with a big "X," written in a caricature of my voice, which they claimed, falsely, was from me. The matter was discussed on this blog in September of 2005.

Sedaris belongs to a clique of establishment writers who've attacked the ULA relentlessly over the years, usually but not always anonymously. They're the ULA's opponents. They're not honest people.

To hear that Sedaris is dishonest in other arenas isn't a surprise, but is a partial vindication for me.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Program Note!

It's not very often that I appear on someone else's card as a reader-- my more usual role is hosting ULA shows.
However, this Monday March 26th I'll be reading, along with four other zeen publishers, at the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia, 7 p.m. (I'm slotted for nine minutes. I'll have to dig up some material.) It's actually a taping for a radio show which will air a week later on WXPN 88.5, but there will be a live audience present, so if you're in the area, 3805 Locust Walk, drop in. (An opportunity to meet me in a controlled setting.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

About Book Reviewing

Occasionally I stray onto other lit-blogs, then have to catch myself and stop it. Even when I tone down my act I'm usually just a little too aggressive for everyone else. Which isn't my problem so much as that of the sheltered insularity of the literary world.

For instance, I recently put a couple comments onto the NBCC (National Book Critics Circle) blog, and was quickly cut off by blogmistress Rebecca Skloot (no lover of debate she), even though the introductory speaker John Freeman at the NBCC convention had spoken about a "fierce hunger" "to talk about" books in this country. Well, yes, but not really.

No one tells aspiring writers the truth about becoming a book reviewer in this country-- that you must be a tamed pet and fit squarely into a tidy box.

This was my experience anyway in 2000 when I was enlisted by a great writer to write something for the esteemed review journal Bookforum. I was originally told to write an article about the zeen (zine) movement, of which I'm part, but since I took zeensters seriously as writers, and not just as quirky hobbyists; since I took the movement itself seriously as an authentic expression of populist culture, of the American voice, this idea was hurriedly scrapped.

I was mailed books to review; book after book (a sign of the Great Writer's misplaced faith in me), but since they were all crap there was nothing acceptable I could come up with. The worst of them was Thumbsucker by Walter Kirn-- not the worst novel ever written, but close. (The title alone makes one wonder why it was ever published. Is an adult thumbsucker a subject YOU want to read about?) I wrote a review of Thumbsucker. Too harsh, too honest, by half.

The Great Writer was very patient with me. Extremely patient. Finally a book I'd have to like: Sarah, first novel by streetwise wonderkid J.T. Leroy. Sarah was a story about lot lizards-- the pathetic prostitutes who prey upon truck drivers in truck compounds, and are themselves preyed upon.

In reviewing the book I drew upon my experiences with the freight-forwarding business in and around Detroit over the years, in which I'd encountered lot lizards. In truth, Sarah was not a bad book. The Great Writer had faith in its author (she had faith in a lot of hopeless cases). I wrote a review that was half positive and half filled with misgivings about the glamorization of the lifestyle depicted (which in reality is pretty awful).

J.T. Leroy, as you know, became a famous individual a year or so ago, for not being J.T. Leroy. The Great Writer turned out to have been one of those conned. Which was surprising, because-- unlike most writers-- she'd truly been around in her life, and maybe should've seen through "him." (That she didn't, a reflection of the idealism and humanity which makes her a great writer.)

One would expect writers to be the most knowing of all persons in society. That's their role. Today, the reverse is the case. Oh, they're intelligent, yes. Highly intelligent. They're "intellectual." But most of them are five year-olds. (Reading Lindsay the Lit-blogger for instance, one sees all the knowledge of the world of a five year-old.) Dave Eggers for one has made a career out of conning the Lindsays and Rebecca Skloots of the world with the glow of his nascent sainthood; continuing to push the game to new levels to keep the cash register ringing.

(Darn, one of those anti-Eggers shots slipped out of me again. Note to Editor: Please edit the previous paragraph appropriately.)

A world of five year-olds. How would the sensitive Children of Literature handle someone dropped into their midst from something like the freight forwarding business?

As recently as '98-'99 I had a job running a tiny 24-hour import-bonding office at Detroit's riverfront keeping shipments moving from Canada. It was a job where the phone in the office never stopped ringing. Someone was always screaming on the other end-- literally screaming-- about this shipment or that one, in the harshest language! Auto parts usually that were supposed to be Just-In-Time but weren't, and so panic about a shut-down assembly line in Ohio costing thousands of dollars every minute. I did a lot of calling also, in very, VERY harsh language, to truck dispatchers and shippers and warehouse managers in Ontario or Quebec, trying to track down the missing pallets of auto parts. (It would often turn out that the trucker would be traced to a whorehouse someplace between London and Windsor, Ontario, or dawdling at a truck stop with a lot lizard. The synchronicity of the universe.)

Anyway, my review was rewritten several times until it was satisfactorily positive, then rearranged by the Great Writer herself. It was further amended by Bookforum's then chief editor. I noticed in the published version of "my" review the word "demimonde."

"Demimonde"? Would I be likely to ever use the word "demimonde"?? I had to look it up just to find out what it meant!

The Joys of Book Reviewing.
What has this rant been leading up to?

Only that the Underground Literary Alliance will soon present its own new place for book reviewing. The goal is that you'll discover there writing not to be found in stodgy newspapers, or in Bookforum. We hope you'll find instead gutsy and entertaining balls-to-the-wall commentary, along with unflinching truth.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Carmina Burana


I managed to obtain two tickets for the final performance of "Carmina Burana" Saturday night at the Academy of Music, presented by the Pennsylvania Ballet. (It's been the hot ticket in town for over a week.) A fantastic show which lived up to all the hype. Passionate, powerful, tremendous music and wonderful dancing. Pure art-- a great experience. The hall was packed, the crowd enthusiastic.

I was thinking the whole time that this is the kind of experience which literature-- in great novels and poems-- needs to get back to providing. Huge crowd pleasing ambition. Interesting to me was how the "new," the modern, was built on the foundation of classic ballet.

Literature can achieve the same thing and thereby renew itself as an art form-- in the same way ballet has been renewed with this amazing production, unlike any other you'll see. But those who create and promote literature need to think bigger than they're doing.

Walsh the Poet

I finally got a smidgen of Frank Walsh's poetry up at
(more to follow).

There's more about the crazed, chaotic, coming-apart-at-the-seams country of America in these two short poems than in a thousand delicate and irrelevant tomes produced by the much-lauded icons (dead icons) of the mainstream. Walsh knows the reality of America because like too many of us he feels the weight of it crushing down on him every day. (He's this week scouting for the ULA in the historic city of St. Augustine. Maybe he'll look for some poets on the beach.)

He'll also again be anchoring a show of poetry and theater, words and fireworks, in the genteel city of Philadelphia on April 22nd, at The Underground, cool cellar club, 3 pm Sunday, along with Philly novelist Lawrence Richette, the SuperPoet (put back together) in one guise or another, and a whole lot more. Yes, we're for real, in-your-face no-holds-barred taking on all comers, come one and all to witness what literature that LIVES is about. The timid or squeamish had best stay home.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Coming Attraction

Movie Serial: "The Eggers Gang vs. n+1."


Mob boss Dave Eggers of the powerful McSweeney's Syndicate, accompanied by evil gun moll Vendela Vida, holds a meeting at creepy Syndicate headquarters on Valencia Street. Present are main henchmen Po "Pretty Boy" Bronson, Dan "The Ogre" Handler, and Stephen "The Kid" Elliott. Boss Eggers is upset that the latest effort to destroy underworld rivals "The ULA" has failed.

(Blockhead Eggers little knows that as an amorphous organization with no address and no property, appearing out of and vanishing into thin air, the ULA can't be killed. It's an idea, not an entity.)

"We'll change strategy," Boss Eggers declares to the gang, as Pretty Boy stares wide-eyed, the Kid shivers, and the noxious Ogre blinks uncontrollably. (Slinky Vendela looks at the inept gang members and sneers.)

"Duh, Boss, does I gets to hurts somebody?" the Ogre asks while decapitating a child's doll.

Pretty Boy's question is marginally more intelligent. "We need easier territory."

Eggers grins, having anticipated him.

"We'll go after. . . ." Eggers announces, "The other guys!"


"The Eggers Gang Versus n+1."

Coming Soon to a Theater Near YOU.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Excitement Plus


Philadelphians will get another opportunity to witness the most exciting writers group on the planet in action. No tepidly tame literary reading with audience members sitting on their hands. We want people yelling. Against us or for us, it doesn't matter.

The show happens April 22, Sunday at 3 pm, again at The Underground, 40th at Spruce, the basement of Copabanana. We promise to go ballistic.

More details to follow.

What's the ULA?

A mistake we made the last few years was allowing those who joined our ranks to believe we were simply another membership organization like the Flower Club. The core idea of the Underground Literary Alliance has always been that we're a literary insurgency, an ongoing campaign, a cause: a movement-- which has to be continually moving, on the march. We're not a membership organization but a commando unit.

The worst thing we can do in any aspect of the ULA is to stand still. Every piece of this campaign has to bristle with activity and conflict. Every thing we do has to explode with noise and excitement. This is the only way we'll claim literature for ourselves and the public for literature.

There are many doors which can be opened in the house of writing. When the curious open the door marked "ULA" they need to experience what they'll experience no place else; to see and read what they've never seen.

American Samizdat

I'm glad I'm an undergrounder.

Being underground means not having to kowtow to self-appointed defenders of the current corrupt literary system, monitors of etiquette and manners. Being underground means standing in an adversarial relationship to the power structure of the art. It means never groveling. It means never accommodating in the interest of short-term gain, but, instead, fearlessly unflinchingly relentlessly speaking the truth. Compromise my integrity and my beliefs? For what? Pats on the head? Not this dog.

What's the worst that can happen to me? That I go back to being a full-time zeenster; cranking out low-rent samizdat. It's how I began. Dissent is an honest stance for any writer. The only honest stance, in my book, for those who want their art to be honest and to thrive. If dissent isn't tolerated by the literati-- that's their problem. It's a mark of THEIR weakness, THEIR obsolescence, THEIR rotting house of cards awaiting collapse.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

ULA Strengths

Insane as it may seem, I'm satisfied with where the Underground Literary Alliance is at the present time. Despite occasional setbacks, we have a solid foundation in place. Our strengths:

The word "ULA" encompasses a literary movement starkly different from anything else on the scene today. We're unique. There's no group of writers like us.

The ULA name includes as well our unbeatable history of excitement-- performances and actions never before seen.

We've maintained our integrity from the beginning. We've unflinchingly fought corruption on the literary scene, always with our own identities. No skulking around, no cowardice, no apologies.

It's amazing how strong our cast remains. At the head of our pack at the moment are two excellent underground writers-- excellent in different ways. WRED FRIGHT's Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus is readable and endlessly hilarious. Pop fiction with the bright joy, energy, and humanity of a rock n roll song. JAMES NOWLAN's Security is much darker, a gritty chaotic look at surviving within a chaotic civilization: unflinching reality from the first page.

A total original is novelist WILD BILL BLACKOLIVE, as is poet FRANK WALSH, whose poems make the literati's award-winners look like the product of five year-olds. JESSICA WILBER is one of the best young writers under thirty. We have other good writers, young and not-so young, from STEVE KOSTECKE of Azian Kix to CRAZY CARL ROBINSON to ERIC BROOMFIELD to LISA FALOUR to others I'm sure I'm forgetting to name. We also have in our ranks the most legendary of the underground "old guys," JACK SAUNDERS, who is also the best commentator on underground writing and culture in the country.

Behind-the-scenes ULA workers, artists, and agitators include PAT SIMONELLI, ADAM HARDIN, TOM HENDRICKS, YUL TOLBERT, JEFF POTTER, and myself. (Other ULAers scattered around the country include GRANT SCHREIBER in Chicago, and CHRISTOPHER ROBIN and JOE PACHINKO on the west coast, among others.)

We have other allies who soon enough will be officially joining the ULA team.

We're now getting our writers to the market, competing straight up with the big guys. We have two presses; ULA PRESS ( and LIT-VISION ( With this aspect finally under way, the ULA campaign is really only beginning.


It's disappointing to see n+1 cave almost immediately and offer a "partial recantation" of anti-lit-blogger remarks, because of a little heat from same. n+1 should get a backbone and keep some perspective about what they're dealing with.

The lit-blogger clique is not the world. It's not even the literature. It's nothing more than the overflow of the mass of conformist writers being cranked out by MFA programs in this country. They offer no new ideas and little in the way of new writing. They're not going to change American literature and don't WANT to change it.

The use of new technology? It's like a used car dealership which used to advertise in newspapers and on radio, and can now add television to the mix. An added outlet, nothing more, to sell the same-old product-- the same boring models the public flees from, sitting lifelessly on the same dusty lot. A few added pennants overhead, with some brighter colors.

In the larger scheme of things, lit-bloggers mean virtually nothing. They're a ring of tiny voices in the back of the hall of literary culture, a literary culture whose place in larger society keeps getting smaller, and smaller, and smaller. . . .

Occupants of a closet at the back of the house, arguing about their positions within the closet.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Literary Revolution?

REVOLUTION means yanking comfortable people out of their comfortable station and collapsing their status quo world to let them know that EVERYTHING has changed. This, we seek to do with literary people. We'll keep agitating until we've accomplished our mission.

The literary world consists of the most comfortable individuals in the society. For them, life is not an ongoing battle for survival. Their words ooze with complacency. They have not yet been turned upside down and dropped on their heads, as has happened to many.

This nation is being wrenched apart, the lower classes beaten down to depravity; the lower middle class vanishing; the gap between rich and poor widening, and our official literature knows none of this-- much less bears witness to the true stories of our time, as it should.

Instead, the literati celebrate politely at swanky soirees.

Their world of established literature is increasingly isolated, disconnected from the greater society. They're ignorant of this happening. All the world is glowing and wonderful, at their party. All is accomplishment and success!

Their book review pages are disappearing, they grudgingly admit in between sips of cocktails and nibbles of hors d'ouvres. The fault lies with everyone but themselves.

"No, our world is not over," they proclaim inside their wonderful room. "Not over; not yet! It's only the nasty newspaper publishers. It's only our readers, who are no longer reading us. They don't deserve to read us! We've dismissed the public with our tepid over-refined books, with our insistence that the general mass is not interested and can never be interested in literature. Only an elite few can be. Lo, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, we're proved correct. The mass public is not interested-- it's their fault. We give them not passion, not reality, not fun not adventure not motive to read not dreams not ideas not excitement not compelling characters or irresistible narratives as great novelists once gave them. We give them not musical magical poetry with meaning to their lives. Instead, we give them, US-- well-trained well-crafted imitations of perpetual sycophancy."

If they no longer have the public, they have, at least-- for now-- themselves.

How to Give a Speech

I recently discovered the existence of an organization called the National Book Critics Circle (no Jerk on the end of it). In social standing, manners, tastes, attitudes, and ideas (if they have any), the NBCC-- is the antithesis of the Underground Literary Alliance, and so makes a good foil for us. It's an organization of hoop-jumping careerists: demi-puppets.

They're having their convention this week. The opening remarks by John Freeman were emblematic of the organization: utter mediocrity.

A speech ideally should be done by a poet (a real poet; not the fake academic brand); by a person who understands cadence and rhythmn, and how to build words toward an end, like music reaching a crescendo. (Endless models exist in the plays of Shakespeare.)

I had to give a speech to kick off the ULA's recent reading here in Philly, and wanted to start the event with energy. Since there were many poets in the room, I first recited a poem, "Poet on the Beach," ( which celebrated the poet. It made a good prelude for my short speech discussing the ULA.

One thing I've learned on various telemarketing jobs is that if you want someone to listen to you, even for ten seconds, your words had better have intensity to them.

At the ULA's first public event, our 2001 debate with George Plimpton and his Paris Review staff at CBGB's, Michael Jackman and myself both made short, dynamic speeches so effective that when we'd finished there was not much the Overdogs gathered before us could say in return. The "debate" for all intents and purposes was over. (The text of the speeches is given in a great new anthology of underground writing edited by Jack Saunders, Postcards from Pottersville.) Our words and our performances, as in everything the ULA has done since it was founded, were filled with intensity.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

ULA Poetry and Fiction

The new ULA Review blog isn't ready yet-- but the Poetry and Fiction blog is.
Check it out at
(Within a few days it'll be set up to include other posters-- to ensure a flow of new material.)

The ULA Word

It's amazing how the simple mention of the ULA word-- "the Underground Literary Alliance"-- to Overdog types at literary soirees sends them into panic. (For our last few "crashes" for instance-- Housing Works; Miller Theater-- our mere presence at the events sent people into hysterics.)

Saying the ULA word is like presenting daylight or a crucifix to a vampire. It's like corrupt nobles plotting around a table in a castle, and "zip" into the middle of the discussion comes an arrow from the outlaw Robin Hood.

As we largely ARE an underground "outlaw" lit movement, the word is usually whispered, like a secret code. "Underground Literary Alliance." (Panic in the eyes of those who hear it.) Someday soon-- or now at select locations-- the word will be shouted, as it will be here in Philadelphia at our next show: "UNDERGROUND LITERARY ALLIANCE!"

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Against Blandness

NEWSPAPER book review sections across the country are notably unexciting, targeting a relatively small audience of upper-middle class cultured types; a Sunday morning matron and patron of the arts leisurely browsing through the arts pages while resting comfortably on a sofa next to Fluffy the Cat. It doesn't take much to stir this person. Each generically bland review she reads safely never does.

Newspapers of course make no attempt to move out of this stale and comfortable ghetto of the sleepy and well-educated-- which is why book review sections across America are dwindling or vanishing.

But wait! The solution to the blandness is here. Frank Walsh and myself will soon be starting a new ULA Books Section, containing gonzo reviews and commentaries guaranteed to attract new readers. (Standard run-of-the-mill reviews have other outlets.) We'll present with each new post not a review, but an experience. It will be like no other book review section anyplace. Stay tuned for more details.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The ULA Influence


Here's the cover of the newest ULA Press release.

Notice any similarities with the cover of a new conglomerate release, THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES by South American author Roberto Bolano? (Look at the cover on Amazon.)

The gonzo lettering ULA's Jeff Potter uses for this and other ULA Press covers was taken from promo flyers done by myself. I've been doing such "psychotic" scrawls on my zeens and my mailed press material for over ten years-- have at times flooded NYC with them. It's pure coincidence that a book from NYC would have a design with the same kind of bold hand-done zeen-style graphics. Completely accidental.

Or is it?

THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES is a novel about a radical underground literary movement. I guess we should take the nod to the ULA on the book's cover as a compliment of sorts. (Further evidence that we ARE the #2 literary movement in this country-- the grittier, more authentic other side of the coin to #1's phoniness.)


Originally uploaded by King Wenclas.

Among the ULA's projects for 2007 will be to help promote this Yul-drawn comic strip. More info about this upcoming.
(Check out the strip at

Monday, March 05, 2007


IT'S INTERESTING that the three contending literary movements on this side of the Atlantic all had their roots in the zine scene of the 1990s.

The vast bulk of zines were hand-made, low tech, xeroxed, and sold for a dollar or two. Their creators were from all walks of life-- often working the shittiest jobs in this society, from dishwasher to waitress to movie ticket-taker to fast food worker to 7-11 clerk. The colleges they attended, for those who went to college, were unknown schools in the West, South, and Midwest. Most successful and representative of this form of zinester were Doug Holland of "Pathetic Life," and Aaron Cometbus. The ULA drew its early membership from zine publishers like them; Wred Fright, Owen Thomas, Chris Estey, Michael Jackman, Tom Hendricks, Urban Hermitt, and so on. The movement was grass roots and populist.

A handful of other zines, which received an inordinate amount of attention, were more expensive more substantial intellectual journals produced by ambitious highly educated social climbers. The most prominent of these zines were The Baffler and Hermenaut. Keith Gessen of n+1 wrote for the latter. Hermenaut's editor, Joshua Glenn, is Gessen's intellectual godfather. n+1 is a continuation of this more upper class zine tradition.

Dave Eggers's Might (precursor to McSweeney's), created in the latter half of the decade, borrowed from zine style and attitude while being only marginally a real zine. (Once you have an office and staff you've pretty much left zine territory.) The people Eggers went after in his later projects weren't zinesters and their audience, but Overdog writers (Susan Minot and MFA grads. In other words, he melded himself as quickly as possible with established literature.

Only the Underground Literary Alliance consists of grass roots DIY writers carrying on the authentic zine tradition. We're a broader, more authentic expression of American culture than our two more pretentious and connected competitors, and are well-positioned for the present, and for the future ahead.


Read-Off Begins
Originally uploaded by King Wenclas.

This shot gives an idea of the intensity of the 2/25 event. Frank Walsh reading; "SuperPoet" awaiting.

(This and other photos now up at

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Dinosaur Times

An article by Joan Didion on the front page of the Arts section of today's New York Times represents the privileged face of the Literary Past-- and the moldiness of a dying newspaper, protected by thuggish security guards, afraid of the different, the authentic, the new.


Originally uploaded by King Wenclas.
Critics of this blog have said I waste too much time debating with demi-puppets-- that I should put up only positive posts, such as about ULA books. (Wred Fright's "Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus" depicted.)
Hyping ULA products is important. BUT, does anyone truly believe this blog had more readers in the past week, with comments turned off?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The True Gen

The most radical literary group in America is the Underground Literary Alliance.

Idiom Poets

Idiom Poets
Originally uploaded by King Wenclas.
The Idiom Poets, who appeared at our "Underground" show Sunday, will be reading in Philadelphia again Friday (tomorrow) at Robin's Books, 13th Street between Chestnut and Sansom, 7 p.m. A motley bunch!