Wednesday, December 06, 2017

About Instapoetry

Pictured: Poet Rupi Kaur

(I penned this to the same college student, this time in response to questions about the Instapoetry movement. Apparently he uses excerpts-- with attribution-- in a college newspaper.)

Change in any art is necessary to keep it fresh and alive. What's happening with the success of Rupi Kaur and others like her is a return to extreme simplicity in form, and to simple, basic emotion. To language's roots, in a sense. The poems are fresh and readable, and so are drawing readers to online poetry. The short, clear style is made for the digital age-- at least, as you imply, for these still-early days of the digital age. So, yes, Rupi Kaur is the face of poetry now. 

Can it last? I don't think so, unless it evolves. It's too simple, and will quickly become monotonous. What looks new and fresh today won't look so fresh a few years from now when it's been done over and over. And over, with little variety. Its utter simplicity leaves little room for variety. It's the kind of poetry (I won't call it verse; it's not verse) which anyone can write. Which means everyone will write it, and the world will be flooded with Rupi Kaur knockoffs until we're drowning in them and people cry out, "Enough!" Are Rupi Kaur and her colleagues talented enough to evolve their art? Or are they one-hit wonders who'll be writing and reciting the same tunes ten or twenty years from now? They have a penchant for promotion. That's obvious. Is that enough?

Their flaw is they use none of the effective tricks of poetry developed over centuries. Things like cadence, wordplay, the occasional (or not so occasional) rhyme. What some call euphony. Rupi Kaur stresses that her work draws on trauma and abuse. So did Sylvia Plath's. Plath's poems were extremely self-centered-- but they also used every tool in the poet's toolbox, which is why they've lasted-- why they're as strong now to read or listen to as when they were composed. 

The poetic art has fled from craft-- from the instinctive use of what some call craft-- since Plath's death, and much of the running away is from simple laziness. Academic poetry has put people to sleep for decades-- in part because it threw away rhyme and meter, elements of poetry which existed for a reason. Which existed because they helped the listener connect easily to the work-- aiding the mind in flowing into a work's rhythms and imagery. The best poetry expresses a joy in language itself-- which is why Shakespeare has lasted. It should be fun and exciting to recite. The work of the Instapoets is too simple to be fun and exciting to recite.

Still, what they're doing might be necessary to bring new people back to the art. The true innovators will be those who move strongly beyond Rupi Kaur and her peers-- who can build on the simplicity but give the new audiences the excitement of a more complex and passionate art. That's the trick. That's the task. That's the accomplishment to go after-- not to dismiss Instapoetry, but to surpass it. To top it at its own game by subtly and gently bringing back those long-scorned and forgotten tools of cadence and rhyme. Mixing them into the simple words and short works. Keeping the poems short but making them more powerful, more compressed. Creating poems which will simply engage the online reader-- but knock those readers out of their chairs with their power. That's what I'd like to see. If it can be imagined, it can be accomplished.

Karl Wenclas
New Pop Lit

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Answer to a Young Poet

(Answer to a series of questions sent to New Pop Lit.)

The best way for a poet to stand out is to write better poetry. Most of the poems which editors like ourselves receive are bad prose divided into lines. Poets forget that poetry is meant to be heard. Ideally, in our eyes, it should have a sense of music: pace, rhythm, and yes, the occasional rhyme. Off-beat rhyme. Unpredictable rhymes in the middle of a sentence. Plus other poetic tools like alliteration, of which too many poets seem never to have heard. The lost concept of euphony. That's what we look for-- poems meant to be read out loud, which are striking or moving or powerful when recited out loud. Which like a river or a hurricane build momentum and power and meaning with each stanza.

That there are a million poets out there struggling to be heard means the new poet needs to think beyond what's current and accepted. Create the new. Go past what other poets are doing. Any art is, or should be, in constant flux. Always changing. What the standard is now will not be the standard ten or twenty years from now. The key is to innovate. Think ahead of everyone else.

If you want to be the best, you have to know the best. The new poet should read the best poets-- the real best, of every variety. From Edgar Allan Poe to Emily Dickinson to Sylvia Plath. Ginsberg and Berryman, Maya Angelou and Dylan Thomas. Shakespeare, for the use of language, of course. Your brain will subconsciously synthesize all of it.

The new poet should attend and read at poetry open mics in the area. That's where the excitement in today's poetry world can be found. A lot of the performed poems will be hip-hop rhyming poems-- but not all of them. Besides, hip-hop is popular for a reason-- because it's easily remembered and makes an immediate connection with the audience. We believe future poetry will be a fusion of the street and academic styles. The best of both worlds.

A live audience in a hectic venue like a bar or coffee shop is the best way for a poet to test whether or not a poem makes a connection. Does it stir the audience in some way? Feedback is all. Reading with and against other poets is the best way to sharpen one's work.

We also suggest the new poet put together a simple zine or chapbook of his or her poems-- even if it's made on a copy machine. This gives the poet something to hand out at readings. Or sold, for as little as a buck. The idea being to use every available way to get the word out about yourself and your work.

Publishing in esteemed journals like Poetry magazine or The New Yorker is an opportunity open to very few. Online journals like ours provide an alternative. They can be found via listings like, or the literary magazine listings at Or simply google "poetry magazines" or "literary magazines" or "poetry listings" and scores of addresses will come up.

To the new poet: Good luck!

Karl Wenclas
New Pop Lit

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Upon Reading. . . .


marvel comics covers 

Depicted are fragments of covers from classic Marvel issues of the past—“Iron Man” “Thor”—etc. Noticeable is the amount of pure HYPE which went onto the issues:

“Iron Man Returns to Face TWO Super Villains” kind of thing.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created a massive media empire from nothing through extreme ballyhoo.

A reminder that I have to do some of that at New Pop Lit. Especially with the ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT, currently on brief hiatus at this blog.

Can we turn classic American writers into superheroes?

Friday, May 19, 2017

A Tale of Two Editors

I had a brief impromptu twitter exchange yesterday with long-time publishing Insider Peter Ginna. The exchange emphasized to me the gulf which exists between those inside and outside the New York City lit-media bubble.

I mentioned to Ginna something I call the “Sholokhov-Solzhenitsyn Spectrum” of commitment to artistic integrity and freedom of speech. This, after he mentioned, in a positive way (he disputes this characterization), Simon & Schuster abandoning their commitment to publish free speech provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos after a flurry of protest by the established literary herd. I wondered where Mr. Ginna placed himself on that spectrum. Though he protested much that the “Big 5” combination of publishing conglomerates based in New York was “not a monolith,” he never answered my question.


Not surprising, in that Peter Ginna and myself come from different universes. On the subject of literature we speak different languages. At an age when he was attending Harvard and Oxford, I was working in the industrial bowels of Detroit—not the best training ground for a literary person, one would think. But my experiences gave me a sense of how this civilization works, as I saw in marine terminals and railyards how raw material is poured into a city, then creatively turned into something meaningful. It was also while clerking nights in a railyard at the heart of Detroit, near the fiery Rouge river, for many months, that to pass the time between trains I read, and read, and read—as comprehensive a syllabus as one could find at Harvard. If not Oxford.

While Ginna was paying his dues inside the bureaucracies of Big Publishing, I was paying my dues in the indy “zine” scene, creating not through staffs and levels of bureaucrats, but by hand, a series of publications, which I wrote, proofread, designed, drew on, colored, packaged—then marketed and sold. Every aspect of literary creation. On a vastly smaller level than the “Big 5” of course, with a more concise, more enthusiastic audience. It was a smaller scale view of literature, no doubt. The difference, perhaps, between the first Henry Ford making in a backyard shed an automobile out of bicycle parts—and his grandson “Hank the Deuce” inheriting a gigantic many-layered enterprise, in which someone at his level is far removed from the factory floor. Within which every aspect of the creative process—engineers; designers; marketers; accountants—is isolated from the others.

The result? With publishing, I sensed from my exchange a continuing sense of casual complacency, fluctuating from condescension in the face of contrary ideas, to upright defensiveness.

Yet if an automobile company can’t afford to be complacent (witness the events of 2008), how less can an art? And yes, literature is a business SECOND. First, it’s an art.


red shoes

I thought of this last night, when my girlfriend (and NPL co-editor) and I watched the end of the classic 1948 film “The Red Shoes,” then followed this by viewing a 1967 Soviet movie version of “Anna Karenina.” Or at least tried to watch the latter, because every aspect of the Soviet film was awful. Particularly the casting and acting. The plot and much of the dialogue were taken from Tolstoy, but it wasn’t enough to save the flick.

We were forced to ask, “What happened?”

After all, in “The Red Shoes” the Russian impresario, dancers, artists, are all portrayed as geniuses. (Indeed, the movie itself is an unparallleled work of genius.) Yet the creators of the Soviet version of a classic Tolstoy novel were obvious dullards—going through the motions of creating a classic work of art but, like wooden puppets, lacking human or artistic spark.

We see two causes.

1.) The Russian characters in “The Red Shoes” would have to be expatriates who fled their native land after the Bolsheviks took power. Looking at the Soviet film, one can infer that the 1917 revolution and Bolshevik consolidation of power chased out—or liquidated—all creative talent. The premise no doubt was that new talent would rise up after the ostensible “liberation” of the masses—but it didn’t happen. Maybe because those masses were never really liberated, only further enslaved.

2.) One can see the difference between art produced by a tight group of creative talent, and that produced by a gigantic top-heavy bureaucracy required to conform to politically correct standards as laid down by political commisars. A ballet company, as shown in “The Red Shoes,” is a tight group of talented individuals each retaining their individuality. But so was “The Archers,” the film company founded by Michael Powell and Emric Pressburger, the geniuses behind the film. They not only had immense creative ability themselves, but, as important, the ability to spot and enlist other hyper-talented individuals into their project. Whether an actual Russian expatriate in the person of Leonide Massine, or the best cinematographer maybe ever in Jack Cardiff (the colors drip off the screen), or the surreally-talented actor Anton Walbrook and amazing dancer (and amazingly beautiful) Moira Shearer. The film is a paean to beauty, and to Art with a capital A.

The Soviet film? Merely a dud. The argument—my argument—is that massive bureaucracy, if too massive, in the realm of art if not autos, produces mediocrity.

Those involved in the creation of art should ask for more. Much more.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Who’s the Best American Writer?

I HAVEN’T BEEN POSTING much as this blog, because I’ve been helping to set up New Pop Lit's upcoming big event, the All-Time American Writers Tournament. (Long-time readers may remember I started something similar once at another blog several years ago.)

Who’s your favorite American writer? Novelist, poet, playwright, historian, or story writer? All will be considered—but there are so many candidates to choose from that we need input. Feel free to add yours.

Suggestions or 200-word arguments for a particular candidate can be sent to

Or, comments can be added to NPL’s Interactive blog, where most of the action will occur. Progress reports will also be given at the main site’s home page, as well as at NPL’s News blog.

Hurry! Get your choices into the brackets.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Springsteen Paradox

NEWS ITEM: Rocker Bruce Springsteen seen on billionaire’s superyacht in Tahiti.


Bruce Springsteen has made a career out of being a self-appointed spokesman for the American working class. The wealthier he becomes, the harder he works on the part—as if prodded by a fear of being out of touch; losing his authenticity, his connection to reality. This is similar to certain trendy novelists (Stephen King; George Saunders; Mary Gaitskill; Joyce Carol Oates). The more they’re captives of the conglomerate publishing system, the more determined they are to prove their activist credentials. They “care.”

Once, the pop singer was a modestly-paid performer, putting on a tuxedo to perform in a nightclub. Today, Bruce Springsteen is a corporation unto himself, employing an army of musicians, agents, producers, accountants, roadies and bodyguards. When on tour, the show travels from city to city in a caravan of loaded tractor-trailers, like a Broadway production. Think Springsteen the Industry.

Picture Bruce by a swimming pool, wearing an expensive silk robe. He sighs. The people call. Time to do a concert. More millions of dollars to generate. He takes his costume from a walk-in closet larger than many homes. No tuxedo for the “Boss.” Instead, the grimy sweatband; the faded jeans and ripped t-shirt. The Bruce Springsteen Minstrel Show; adopting the garb of the dispossessed, like affluent author Barbara Ehrenreich putting on a waitress costume. It’s not Al Jolson on bended knee singing about “Mammy,” but in its own way it’s as distasteful.

The farther removed in time Springsteen becomes from his humbler days, the more with that humble lifestyle he becomes identified.

The liberal media love it! Writer for The Nation Eric Alterman has stated he’s seen over 200 Bruce Springsteen concerts. Tickets aren’t cheap. Alterman has spent a significant amount of money assuring himself that, like Bruce, he cares about downtrodden people. His message is ultimately the same as Springsteen’s. “I’m one of the good people.” In its modest way, The Nation is as much a part of celebrity culture as People magazine.

Is there safety to the Springsteen presentation, because of its lack of immediacy? Springsteen, after all, is not going to call for the confiscation of lavish estates. He’s not about to begin working in a gas station or a factory. Supporting him, indulging in his make-believe, is a harmless outlet which allows many of America’s most successful social-climbing individuals to enjoy their success yet clear their conscience and retain their self respect.


There are many variations of the Springsteen Paradox. Take a rock musician on the other end of the ideological spectrum, Ted Nugent. “The Nuge” could buy a chain of supermarkets loaded with steaks, yet, for all the world to hear and see, affirms his need to hunt game in the wild to feed his family. Man, life is a struggle for survival! (Just ask his accountant.)

Nugent collects ever more weapons and pumps more iron, training for war. In the Sixties, when Vietnam was a real possibility for him, his patriotic belligerency was, needless to say, significantly tamer.

It’s all about an instinctive need for authenticity. These performers sense their poses are fake. The more they suspect this, the harder they have to work to keep away the truth—from themselves.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Cultural Balkanization


The cultural mandarins in New York City are pushing for cultural fragmentation. At least, that’s the impression given by New York Times Magazine’s recent March 12 “Music Issue.” All is identity. In the Introduction to the issue staff writer Nitsuh Abebe says this:

“In 2017, identity is the topic at the absolute center of our conversations about music.” (“Our” being individuals at the newspaper?) And: “For better or worse, it’s all identity now.”

Abebe discusses the 1950’s as the “last great gasp” of “ethnicities,” but his is a distortion of American musical history. What made the 1950’s noteworthy is the fusion which took place between various threads of roots music, becoming “rock n’ roll”—melding into the pop music of the day and displacing it. The most visible of the new artists, Elvis Presley, counted among his influences country, gospel, rhythmn and blues, and Italian-American crooners like Dean Martin. Presley’s movies would place him continually in Latin and Hawaiian settings, motifs from those cultures’ music appearing in his songs—which were often as not written by Jewish-American songwriters in the Tin Pan Alley tradition. Elvis even did knockoffs of operatic arias!: “It’s Now or Never,” and “Surrender.” In other words, everything was fair game.

Elvis placed songs in the #1 position on the three main charts; pop, r & b, and country; the first time this happened.

Not just Presley fused various styles into his presentation and art. Chuck Berry’s first hit, “Maybelline,” was a reworking of a country song. Further, Berry’s voice had a ringing quality to it that for the time sounded “white.”

The best example of conscious fusion in the music of the 1950’s and early 60’s comes with Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr., who crafted a sound he believed would appeal to everyone. R & B blended with pop form. Gordy marketed this as “The Sound of Young America”—and it was, as kids from all backgrounds bought the records.

Pop music then was truly and distinctively American, embracing the musical backgrounds of all Americans.

This seems a more unifying goal to have, than the fragmentations of now.


In the Times Music Issue we get not just identity, but obsession with identity. A good example from the issue is the essay by Jenny Zhang. Hers is not the positive outlook of a Berry Gordy, who believed anything could be accomplished—and then went and accomplished it. Zhang mentions the “ways in which white supremacy had warped each of us.” Yet she’s confused about fundamentals. In discussing DIY/punk music of the 1990’s, Zhang says “no one much questioned why a subculture that saw itself as rebelling against the establishment was quite so dominated by white men.”

But it was an economic and business rebellion (as was the print-zine movement of the same decade, which I was part of). A rebellion against monopoly and elitism. Against tops-down thinking, and the idea that all culture must come out of L.A. and New York. A business rebellion in the same way rock n’ roll, promoted by carny barkers and street hustlers like Colonel Tom Parker, Sam Phillips, Alan Freed, and Dick Clark, was. Hundreds of upstart storefront record companies like Sun Records took away half the market share of the “Big Four” record giants—an almost unprecedented business revolution (which led to pushback via Congressional “payola” hearings intended to bust the newcomers).

Most of the DIY “punks” of the 1980’s and 90’s were white men, sure. But let’s remember that at any time in American history, including now, a huge segment of the white male population lives in grinding poverty. For an example of this study the biography of Kurt Cobain, who through the popularity of his band Nirvana took subculture grunge music, originally recorded and promoted by small Northwest outfits like Sub Pop, into the cultural mainstream.


What can be said finally about the Times Music Issue?

A.) Maybe that someone is pushing an agenda—agendas being pushed are generally in the interest of power or dollars. I opt for multinational conglomerates as the chief culprit, who today control most of the music business and whose focus isn’t on authentic American culture, but global profits.

B.) Also that when new cultural changes begin happening (see literature now) those well-schooled souls inhabiting Manhattan skyscrapers are often the last to know.


(At New Pop Lit we believe in American literature—and will demonstrate this with our upcoming “All-Time American Writers Tournament.”)

Monday, March 06, 2017

Closed Circuit


Is the New York literary establishment out of touch with what’s happening in middle America—and in literature itself?

One can make a strong case for that based on the recent Bomb magazine conversation between lauded authors Sam Lipsyte and George Saunders. The smugness, even arrogance of their viewpoint is palpable.

They (two of the more privileged writers in America) are out to fight oppression. They let you know up front they’re the good guys. The rightness of their viewpoint is assumed. Never once—not for a microsecond—is there an attempt to examine their own premises. Why would they?—when the groupthink of the moment of the literary establishment backs their view on the new administration 99.8%. Which leaves Saunders and Lipsyte in the position of moral crusaders—or at least, missionaries for their cause—out to convert the world.

George Saunders explains how he performed, for a Trump supporter, “an English 101 deconstruction” of an article; going through the text for her “point by point.” Kind of like a Twelve Step-program intervention. Saunders dashed it off—the “101” assuring us it wasn’t too great of a task. He bemoans the necessity of having to do this—but someone has to reach out to the ignorant mob. His task being to re-educate the little people of America who unwittingly voted for the wrong person.

In his intellectual complacency, George Saunders doesn’t realize one could easily deconstruct his own positions, as expressed in the interview. “Point by point.”

I’ll look at two of them.

FIRST is the ready use of the word “fascist,” keeping with an ongoing narrative about the new administration. The two esteemed writers seem not to have read Orwell’s classic essay, “Politics and the English Language,” in which Orwell equates the use of such emotionally-charged codewords with an absence of thought. With becoming an intellectual puppet.

“Fascism” is one of those vague terms which can mean anything and everything. If it means the powerful state regulating the lives of the populace, for their own benefit; or directing the culture; or a combination of big business, government, and academia; or an imperialist/interventionist foreign policy—then one might be speaking about Trump opponents as much as his supporters.

Curiously for these two anti-fascists who inhabit prestigious positions at universities—those renowned bastions of free thought—there’s no mention of the fascist-like thuggery used to violently shut down, at universities, the unorthodox views of writers Milo Yiannopoulos and Charles Murray. George Saunders wants to examine America “point by point,” but not too thoroughly, and not all of it.

There’s also nary a peep from our anti-fascist established literary world about actual fascist regimes such as Iran, which executes dissident writers. Who remembers Hashem Shabani, hung by the regime two years ago?

No unease either by Lipsyte and Saunders, Saunders and Lipsyte, at the recent Oscar given to film director Asghar Farhadi, an apologist, or at least advocate, for the regime. Call him the Mikhail Sholokhov or Leni Riefenstahl of Iran.

A Second point I could make in deconstructing George Saunders is when he says, in response to the notion that America is falling apart, “Have you looked at the unemployment rate lately?”

Wow! Very smug. Quite an answer. One can see the expression on Mr. Saunders’ face as he says this. BUT—the official unemployment rate is one of the phoniest statistics going, in that it doesn’t take into account the enormous number of people who’ve dropped out of the workforce. This is shown by a large spike in the number of Americans on disability, food stamps, and other support systems. In the past ten years I’ve been on unemployment; been unemployed and not on unemployment; and underemployed. I have a living sense of the guidelines, what’s counted and what’s not.

A better indication might be the nation’s labor participation rate, which has been hovering around 62% one of the lowest levels ever. Over 94 million Americans are out of the work force. A more realistic unemployment rate has been given by various authorities as anywhere from 9.5% to 20%.

Beyond Saunders’ glib response is the actuality of America itself. From my perspective in Detroit, the idea that America is NOT falling apart is jaw-dropping. What planet are these men living on? Bubble writers for sure. Not just Detroit is in ruins, but many of its outlying suburbs. Lately I’ve been traveling on a regular basis through the long stretch of downriver communities. As I do I count endless numbers of closed businesses—closed for years—along Fort Street, the main avenue. Away from Fort, in cities like Lincoln Park and Southgate, are more than a few large for-lease shopping plazas, every store closed. Parking lots empty, windows boarded. Ghost towns within ghost towns.

The economic depression of the past ten years hit not just Michigan, but the entire industrial heartland of America. Do Saunders and Lipsyte have a clue as to why these states voted for Trump? Do they have an inkling that (evident flaws aside) there were solid economic reasons to vote for the man?

If George Saunders with his “combative compassion” ever wants to decontruct the damage so-called free trade has done to America and its working people, or how it’s enriched a handful of multi-nationals and billionaires but no one else, he can do so. He could discuss as well such phenomena as the ongoing opioid/heroin epidemic taking place outside elite bubbles. Perhaps understand where the flow comes from. He might—hard to fathom, I know—learn something.


A much greater deconstruction could take place of Saunders and Lipsyte’s assumptions about American literature. As much or more than their politics, the attitude is monolithic and insular. In their eyes everything and everybody about the established order is wonderful. That it’s marginalized within the greater culture is outside the scope of the permissable view, so they won’t go there. Within the bubble, all is well. Writers like Lipsyte and Saunders wear chests full of medals affirming the wonderfulness.

Status quo gods of lit like David Foster Wallace are assumed. George Saunders gives the obligatory nod to him, along with the rest of the name-dropping. In the writing programs, students are paying large sums of money, going into extensive debt, to learn the approved-but-artistically-dead names, as they’re taught a style of literature for which there’s no audience.

That every writer must have an MFA degree is assumed. Currently I’m editor of an ambitious literary web site, New Pop Lit. I read many submissions from MFA students and graduates. Most are well-written, at least at the sentence level. I accept for publication at the site few of their stories and poems, because they’re not designed for the general reader. They’re designed to impress a Sam Lipsyte or George Saunders. Often they’re too well written—paragraph upon paragraph of finely-crafted sentences coagulating upon themselves, with no pace and little flow.

Saunders and Lipsyte don’t question the nature of the art, and they don’t question the philosophical underpinnings of that art—namely, postmodernism. A philosophy, ironically enough, which has its origins in fascist or pre-fascist writers like Heiddegger and Nietzsche. Some of us view that philosophy as a wrong turn.

The third aspect of American literature today which a Saunders or Lipsyte won’t question is how it’s produced. We see an enormously expensive, top-heavy structure of five book conglomerates based in Manhattan skyscrapers. Approved writers are fed into them via writing programs; screened by layers of agents and editors. Attached to the machine is the largesse writers receive from both governments and tax-shelter foundations. The result is tops-down art, fully endorsed by the most powerful, affluent, and connected parts of society. An aristocracy based on conformity more than birth.

(Alternatives to the established system are addressed in a series of essays I’m writing about new writers. I call the series “Hyper-Talents of the New Literary Age.” Find the essays at NPL’s Op-Ed page. For those interested in alternative ideas, it’s worth a look.)


What you won’t receive from literary apparatchiks like George Saunders and Sam Lipsyte are criticisms and alternatives. My experience is that the literary status quo hasn’t reacted well to criticism—whether criticism of the art (which, remember, is wonderful), or of the process: corruptions in how grants are awarded and such. The attitude is really little different from that toward those whose political ideas are unsettling or provocative. In the academy, outside influences are unwanted. Doors must remain barricaded, windows shuttered.

The drawback to this mode of operation is that when change finally does come, it will be more extreme than it could have been. Thwarted attempts at shaking up the system last decade came from the Left. Today, many young intellectuals banging the drums against the system come from the Nietzschean Right. Not an opposition to current academic ideas (identity politics and the like) but a funhouse mirror image of them. Ideas of the academy thrown back at it, a toxic version.


The status quo literary system is beyond change—though alternative ideas can be sharpened through occasional interaction with it. It’s marginalized within the culture, and will become increasingly marginalized, its leading figures like George Saunders retreating further into the obscurity of their art and the sinecured security of their bubble. The objective of upstart outfits like New Pop Lit should be to create a more exciting alternative—one not looking down on Americans, of all stripes, from on high, but living and moving in a hectic fight for survival among them. As DIYers we’re forced to produce new, living art without approval, without connections, without institutions, without largesse—which puts all impetus on the art itself; and on those independent-minded writers willing to push through the boundaries of the acceptable. The future belongs to them.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

“The Misfits” and Politics Now



A movie which illustrates the divide between political camps in America right now is the 1961 flick “The Misfits,” starring Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, and Montgomery Clft. Directed by John Huston, with screenplay by playwright Arthur Miller.

Do you know the plot? Obsolete, aging cowboy “Gay” (Gable) becomes involved with younger woman “Roslyn” (Monroe). They like each other. They like the difference of the other person, which broadens each one’s experience of the world. They’re so different in outlook they inevitably clash—with striking emotion depicted in some of the most heart-wrenching moments seen on a movie screen. (Superlative acting from all involved.)

An early dispute is when Gay and Roslyn disagree over rabbits which have been disturbing their nascent lettuce patch, at the idyllic ranch (owned by troubled ex-bomber pilot Guido) they’ve been staying at. Gay goes for his rifle. Roslyn, played by Marilyn as a proto-flower child; a kind of pre-hippie—a person of total feeling and empathy—doesn’t understand why he has to do what he’s set on doing. Which is, kill the rabbits. His interest is in protecting their little turf. Conflict is delayed by the arrival of a small plane—flown by Guido (the person with no sympathy for anyone or anything, played by Eli Wallach). Guido has spotted a small herd of wild mustangs. Which for the two men is a means to avoid “wages” i.e., social conformity. A way to stay out of the societal hive. Before going on their excursion after the horses, the group recruits the Montgomery Clift character as an extra roper.

Conflict between the two leads, male and female, explodes when Roslyn realizes the cruelty involved in rounding up the mustangs—and how they’ll end up. (Dog food!)

The conflict is, in a sense, between two halves of society. Between two halves of the self—the male and female. Clark Gable represents the prototypical alpha male, wanting independence—control of his own life—above all else. Marilyn Monroe represents empathy and emotion.

Their struggle is played out through Gay’s final struggle to submit the mustang stallion to his will. The tiny herd’s own alpha, which has become a symbol for himself.

Clark Gable the actor was under stress from the moment he agreed to star in the film. It meant holding his own on screen with younger actors who were heavyweights of Method acting—Clift, Monroe, Wallach. He, Gable; who had skated through so many movies on mere reputation and charm. For the first time in decades he would be required to act.

His co-star would be the sex symbol to end all sex symbols. . . . The epitome of soft, voluptuous feminity. Also a troubled woman from a broken home who’d once used a photo of Clark Gable as a father substitute.

In the film, Monroe and Clift take Method acting to the furthest extreme, stripping their personalities down to their naked core; giving you themselves, unfiltered. Gable struggles to do likewise.

More significantly, Gable insisted on doing many of his own stunts, including in the grueling final struggle between man and horse. A sequence which is magnificent and heroic but harrowing to watch, particularly when you realize the struggle killed the man. Clark Gable had a massive heart attack upon completion of filming, and died eleven days later.


Where’s the parallel to today’s politics?

Only in that Donald Trump perceives himself to be an alpha male, and behaves like one. This alone for many people is a shock. When he says he wants to make America great again, he subconsciously means that he wants to return to the days when America was a less regulated, more rugged and masculine country.

By this viewpoint, America has become feminized the last couple decades; embracing a “kinder, gentler” vision of itself. More feeling, more caring— becoming as a result more vulnerable.

The female personality feels, as Rosyln feels, for every living thing. The idea of cruelty in the universe is unbearable. Intolerable. And so, screening migrants, or restricting them, or controlling one’s borders—which the male personality sees as a way to reassert control over one’s life, or the nation’s life, becomes, to the female side of the nation’s psyche, pure hate.

(There’s a lot of cruelty in the film, especially toward the band of misfit humans.)

Is Trump’s stance protecting borders logical? To him it is. It might be nothing more than a futile gesture; a stubborn willfulness against fate, the same as Gay/Gable’s determination to impose his will upon an alpha horse. A holding back of the future. An embrace of a declining past. Or it might not be futile. Only the future will tell.


There is some basis from history for Trump’s instinctive stance. It’s in a long series of examples of prosperous civilizations which as a result of their prosperity became soft and decadent; an attractive jewel for less civilized parts of the world.

One thinks of the warlike early Romans and their determination to defeat wealthy trading city Carthage. In turn, centuries later, decadent Rome invaded by barbaric Gothic hordes intent on plunder. Or Cortez and his ruthless conquistadores toppling fabulously wealthy but hesitantly uncertain Montezuma and the fate-dominated Aztec empire.

The targets had become soft, voluptuous cultures.

From this stance, America today sits as a prosperous, declining land. For the ruthless male from a more masculinized culture, a woman waiting to be taken and dominated. Isn’t this how the young men of ISIS view the affluent West?

The conflict raging within America is about what kind of civilization we’re going to be. Tough, hard, ruthlessly logical in protecting our interests and our status in the world? Abiding the hard lessons of history? Or like Roslyn/Marilyn, indulging our “better angels” and feeling for—and opening our arms to—virtually everyone?

It’s important that alpha male Clark Gable destroyed himself making “The Misfits” while protecting his status as an alpha male—but too-sensitive-for-this-world Marilyn Monroe destroyed herself as well. It was her final completed film.


Postscript: Though the performances of Monroe, Clift, and Gable were phenomenal, they received no Oscar nominations for their work. The film won not a single Academy Award. Meanwhile, a conventionally p.c. film, even for 1961, the musical “West Side Story,” swept the nominations and awards that year. It’s an excellent film, very well made—but without the depth or the significance of the cruelly underrated movie “The Misfits.”

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Reflections on an Essay

An excerpt from a memoir of the 1970’s by Gary McDonald, now up at the New Pop Lit website here, is about the sexual liberation of that era as much as it about the anti-war protest described at its beginning. At that, it’s about tthe sexual liberation of men—something seldom touched upon with the proliferation of Women’s Studies programs.

Noteworthy about the memoir is its frankness. McDonald isn’t presenting an idealized version of himself. Transparently present are the raging hormones of himself—and of both sexes—often taking precedence over politics. As would be expected among college students in their late teens and early twenties.

Sexual attraction between men and women is the something missing among the uptight p.c. political radicals of now. The very idea of it may be unwanted among that crowd—could itself be a truly radical act. At least in the academy now. 

The current ethos among the intellectual Left is a kind of unreal puritanism. Desires are carefully regulated—especially male desires—where once they were channeled. This includes forbidden desires for goods and ego. Men must tread carefully in the alternate universe of the university, lest they offend someone.

One sees inevitable reactions to this mindset. The election of Donald Trump, walking embodiment of male ego, appetite, and political incorrectness, was one such reaction.

Former Democrat Trump isn’t a true conservative. The sharpest reactions against political correctness are from extremists whose ideas and behavior are anything but conservative.

Many of the alt-right’s leading figures, for instance, are young, and gay or bisexual. Some are professed Satanists. They’re invariably well-educated, are the creation of the academic Left and its doctrine of Identity Politics. The alt-right embraces Identity Politics, but with a twist.

The most extreme reaction to the ongoing feminization of the West is coming from radical Islamicists. (See ISIS.) Their behavior consists of total indulgence in the male appetite, with brutally negative consequences for all others.


America’s p.c. Left circa 2017 is full of contradictions. They embrace multiculturalism and disdain the West, yet the equalities they espouse are strictly the product of the West. I was reminded of this while rereading parts of the Somerset Maugham novel The Moon and Sixpence, whose chief character Charles Strickland is based on painter Paul Gaugin. Toward the end of the novel, Strickland encounters the uninhibited, “liberated” world of Tahiti—liberated, and as a result, completely sexist.

“I shall beat you,” Strickland tells a prospective mate.

“How else should I know you loved me?” she answers.

Civilization domesticates the male. Gaugin/”Strickland” flees from it.


One can’t ignore nature. One can’t put men into too strict of a box, or some will break out of it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Independent Artist

van gogh painter on road to tarascon

Among the many crimes of the Nazis against mankind was the destruction of Vincent van Gogh’s most poignant paintings, “The Painter on the Road to Tarascon.” Few works of art so well convey the determination of the independent artist who follows, against all obstacles and hardships, a unique vision.

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