recommendation

What's the Issue with Issue 1?

So a couple of guys named Stephen McLaughlin and Jim Carpenter have created a new poetry Journal called Issue 1. It's nearly 4000 pages long and is available in PDF form here. It's been creating quite a stir among certain poetry circles lately, mostly because a quick survey of the contributors shows it to be possibly the most significant collection of poets ever assembled. With work ranging from the likes of William Shakespeare, my own 13th Great Grandfather Geof Chaucer, to Contemporary figures like Ron Silliman and Susan Howe, to less widely known but still enormously talented poets like Anny Ballardini, Amy King, and, um, yours truly.

Now, of course, none of us actually wrote any of the pieces attributed to us in the book, but frankly i kind of wish I had written my three contributions. "A Cat of Countries" (page 1248):

A cat of countries

The sympathy of darkness
Singleness
Beardless and eternal
A room of countries
Of progress
Reluctance and fun
Firing beside a cat
Like a considerable sweeping
Feeling love

"Whole as a passage" (page 2646):

Whole as a passage
Into a swept whisper a fascinating trader
   arrived
The passages mumbled
Those were whole
A rapid rib, cheap rib,
   useful rib of an impossible thieving
Was he impenetrable?
Let her stare
Should he have been silent?
From his difficult arm he hungered for
   one, having, from his throat demoralization
     waiting
That was the creek’s wilderness
Sorrow, you were
   not there, making like a head
Fascinating and enthralling
He would sooner
   be different,
Big and little
”I save brass,” he whispered
He was lived by a
   mutter
He was thinking of the ghastly lives
   of bailiffs, knocking silently beside reckless conceptions
Now the thievings filled in the breeze

And my favorite, and the one that sounds the most like me, "Changing news like intelligence" (page 3573):

Changing News Like Intelligence

To burn descending on an art
A person
His anodyne news

Beginning beside a tree
More minor than a beggar

Now, of course there are some people who think this is lame. Others who take issue, like Silliman who made some vague mention of legal action in his blog about it.

To such people, I say chill out. It's a nice piece of something. There's no damage to your reputation taking place here. Clearly the list of authors was gleaned in someway from Buffalo poetics/the kinds of magazines folks like us get printed in. And frankly, taking Rita Dove at one end, and myself at the other, of a spectrum of fame, none of us are all that well known to the point that anybody outside our little poetry world will care about this one way or another. Take it as a compliment and relax. This thing is the best piece of flarf I've ever come across and frankly, like Anny Ballardini said on the Buffalo list today, I wish I'd had the idea.

My Soft Skull Recommendation: Branwell by Douglas A. Martin

Soft Skull Press is currently experiencing a financial crisis. As a result, they're offering their entire catalog at 40% off.

If you'd like to take advantage of this, may I recommend Branwell: A Novel of the Brontë Brother by Douglas A. Martin? Full disclosure: Martin was my writing teacher at the New School; in fact he's the best writing teacher I've ever had. Branwell is a lyrical and beautiful novel, biographical fiction done in a sparse, almost poetic style. It's a novel in the tradition of Marguerite Duras, gradually building character and mood out of striking images, unattributed interlocutors (which often seem to be within Branwell's head) and startling juxtapositions of sentences and words that speak volumes.

He would paint his sisters, all three of them, around this time.

For a time he struggled with this. Even at eighteen, he's not a good painter yet. He paints himself with a gun.

Now he wasn't to paint his sisters too ugly.

What would be the best way to arrange them all in a portrait. He paints them all with the eyes of rabbits, glazed over in a fear. He paints that there. He puts them almost in tears. He had begun to paint himself in there along with them, all arranged around him, and now he has just given up.

He's not going to be able to live up to their image of him.

They could all be seated around a table, or standing up.

He gives Charlotte the most firmly set mouth. He paints Emily with more sensuousness. He had himself initially standing up behind them, but he looked like the one thing that didn't belong. One could see how if he'd just remove himself, the painting might appear more balanced. He didn't fit with his sisters, where Emily has been placed in shadows, Anne resting her head on her shoulder, Charlotte lit with something like the sun.

A breeze in the portrait will touch only Emily.

The next time he paints her, he'll give Emily an even nicer dress.

One day Charlotte will have this painting to keep.

He's been removed, for the sake of making a better picture, and the composition overall is indeed better without him. That pillar there in the center instead will take his place. A cross divides the canvas into the scope of fields, how it must have been folded in on itself once to protect it when there was no frame.

Over time, the self he's tried to cover over in the painting of his sisters by the placement of the centered pillar, will come to light; as the oil paint slowly gains more transparency, the older and older it gets, his figure, a fourth, emerges between them, ever more visible beneath the pillar of separation painted down the middle, becoming him.

Friday Recommendations

Cartoonist Patricia Storms has done a number of amusing literary-themed comic strips, the best of which is "The Amazing Adventures of Lethem and Chabon" which turns the titular twosome into superheroes battling against their arch-enemy, Candice Bushnell!

Nine Inch Nails new album, Year Zero has launched with an alternate reality game, in which listeners can track down easter eggs from the album and merchandice and various other clues to paint a portrait of a dystopian future in 2022. One interesting part of the game is that if you decode the bar code on the back of the CD, you get a url, exterminal.net. There, click on "Bardsley, G (Accomplice Surveillance Underway)" for a mini-short story told in multiple panels (you'll see what I mean) with accompanying photos. The way this is done is very interesting in terms of the potential for prose fiction in new media.

Also on the future-speculation front, Warren Ellis talks about the motivations behind making his new comic book, Doktor Sleepless. Ellis: "It's 2007 and the society does not yet understand how to operate water."

Lastly, go out and read Cynthia Ozick's article "Literary Entrails" in the new issue of Harper's Magazine. In it she talks about why Jonathan Franzen and Ben Marcus' protestations of a lack of readers are beside the point, and what literature is really missing is good criticism. (And in the process, she well-deservedly hands Marcus his own ass.) She singles out James Wood as the kind of critic we need more of in a way that makes me reconsider my dismissal of him as a reactionary—though she does point out that he is "sometimes faulted for narrow sympathies, and for depricating those styles and dispositions that escape the bounds of his particular credo." (ie. realism.) Scott Esposito has an interesting and thorough reaction to the article that's also worth reading.

Three Recommendations

Three recommendations today:

First is short fiction from the latest issue of Harpers magazine, Sans Farine by Jim Shepard, about an executioner during the French Revolution. In telling the story of a man whose very profession is hijacked by the revolution's proclivity towards beheading the innocent, Shepard manages to humanize the Terror without ever being melodramatic or emotionally manipulative. It's quite something.

Second is Tom Bissell's essay on Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises in the most recent issue of the Believer, which is shorter than most of Bissell's pieces for that magazine, but no less great. Read an excerpt at the link above.

Third, an interview with Alan Moore by the "Fanboy Radio Network." As to be expected by a radio show with that title, the hosts and the callers are all falling all over themselves to lick Alan Moore's buttcrack; nevertheless, they get some wonderful information out of him about his work and the history of comics, and the whole thing is worth listening to. Besides, if you're going to lick anyone's butt crack, it might as well be that guy.

Postmodern what?

One of the best anthologies of current American poetry has no Billy Collins in it. No Jorie Graham. No Ted Kooser, Robert Pinsky, James Tate, or W.S. Merwin. Absent from its pages are Rita Dove, Adrienne Rich, and Nikki Giovanni. No Maya Angelou. No Jewel. Charles Simic is nowhere to be found within it's pages. Neither is Louise Gluck. I speak of course of the Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Poetry, edited by Paul Hoover. Contained within it's pages is nearly every American poet of consequence from the generation born after World War II, as well as the brightest lights of their predecessors, from the Beats and the San Francisco Rennaissance to the first two generations of the New York School and the Black Mountain Projectivist poets. The anthology traces the roots of the current situation of American poetry back to it's beginning in the post-war years Charting the postmodern fascination with Pound, Williams, Stein, the return to Romanticism and immediacy of the Beats and SFR poets, and the heady American Internationalism of Jerome Rothenberg and similar poets, to the sweeping influence of Jackson Mac Low following from John Cage at Black Mountain and Charles Olson's milestone poetic statement "Projective Verse." The book includes that essay in an extensive "poetics" section, along with other famous works like Frank O'Hara's manifesto on Personism, and some Cage meditations on aleatory. It's a book that anyone interested in contemporary poetry should read.

Something that made me smile today

Go read this.

Do it right now.

No, don't put it off you lazy goon. Do it now. Right now.

Reading Versus Watching: Fantastic Voyage

Kelly Link is an extraordinary fiction writer. She will take an old saw like the ghost story or the fairy tale or the girl with latent, supernatural powers, and completely reinvent it in a startling way; this always with a depth of character and emotional complexity that is lacking in so much genre fiction. Even people who are totally turned off by the fantastic and the supernatural should find themselves absorbed by her use of genre methods to get at what it means to be human.

Shel Silverstein on La Duende and Mescaline

Russell Edson's surreal, distinctly American poetry glides carefully along the razor's edge between the flash fiction and prose poem genres. His pieces are short, often funny, mostly narrative in a vague sort of way, and given to an intensely convulsive deployment of language along the model of William Carlos Williams and Garcia Lorca. In the last few years, much of Edson's work—often difficult to find given his fringe status and association to the experimental postmodernists who followed in the footsteps of Jerome Rothenberg and his Deep Image poetics—has been collected and re-issued, and WetAsphalt recommends you get your hands on as much of it as you can.

The Rothenberg paintbrush is an association that's well deserved, of course. Peel back the surface on a Russell Edson poem and you're likely to find layers of weight and meaning hidden behind the sometimes childish images he uses. A sensitive reader can't help but feel the weight of these pieces, the sense that there is something darker and more serious lurking beneath the humor and childlike glee of his humor and subject matter. In this he is a close ally of such children's writers as Lewis Carroll, Shel Silverstein, and J.M. Barrie who frequently had at the heart of their writing a dis-ease with the idyllic myth of childhood. I think that Russell Edson has kept some of that ambivalence towards the fantasy of childhood as well, and I think any reader that cares to look can find it there.

A good place to start is The Tunnel, a thick selection of Edson's poetry from the seventies and eighties published in the mid-nineties. I find it interesting to note that according to Amazon.com, only 2 percent of customer's ultimately buy The Tunnel after viewing items like it, and 76% end up buying A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I don't know what that means, I just thought it was worthy of note: Dave Eggers. Really.

[Editor's note: Information on the "Duende" mentioned in the title can be found here.]

Middle Passage

Middle Passage by Charles Johnson is exactly the sort of mixture of technical craft, intelligence and ripping storytelling we're trying to promote here on Wet Asphalt.

Timothy McSweeney Against the World

I run hot and cold on McSweeney's, although they are one of the more interesting indy presses out there.

This morning I read FEEDBACK FROM JAMES JOYCE'S SUBMISSION OF ULYSSES TO HIS CREATIVE-WRITING WORKSHOP on McSweeney's Internet Tendency. It's funny and so today I'm running hot.

The question is, of course, one that any writer who has sat smiling through a writing workshop has asked herself: "Is this workshop really of any value? What would happen to the great works of English literature if they had been subjected to the opinions of these simpletons in my group?"

While I think Teddy Wayne goes a little bit easy on the Workshop Fiction tendency, there's still some biting satire. Highly recommended.