Literarisches Events (in and around Lawrence KS)

  • PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Thursday, September 11, 7:00 p.m., Spooner Hall, KU Campus.
  • PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Friday, September 19, 7:00 p.m. Lawrence Public Library. Sponsored by Raven Bookstore.
  • DENNIS ETZEL, JR. & RACHEL CROSS. Lawrence. Thursday, September 25, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • TONY TRIGILIO. Lawrence. Thursday, Oct. 2, 4:00 p.m., English Room, Kansas Union, KU Campus. FREE.
  • CALEB PUCKETT & JUSTIN RUNGE. Lawrence. Thursday, October 16, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • BEN LERNER. Kansas City, MO. Thursday, October 23, 7:00 p.m., Epperson Auditorium, Vanderslice Hall on the KCAI campus, 4415 Warwick Blvd.
  • KRISTIN LOCKRIDGE & ROBERT DAY. Lawrence. Thursday, December 4, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Middletown Lit.

"And so, as in primitive story-telling, the social function of these forays into the realm of fancy demands that the experiences thus vicariously shared be happy or valorous ones. 'There's enough trouble in the world all about one, so why should people have to put it in books?' is an opinion frequently heard in connection with the prevailing demand for happy endings - or at least endings that if not exactly happy still exalt you and 'make you feel that the world is coming out all right.' Many people in Middletown would agree with their favorite poet, Edgar Guest,* in condemning people who condone 'sin or unhappiness' in fiction by saying, 'The book is sordid, but it's art!'"

* "'Eddie' Guest is more widely read in Middletown than any other poet, with Riley as runner-up in popularity. Rotary has tried to secure him as a speaker, as has the Men's Club in a leading church. In a group of college-trained men prominent in local life, one said that 'Eddie' Guest and Riley were his favorite poets, 'That man Guest certainly gets to my heart'; one liked Kipling, 'never could get Burns, and Byron always seemed a dirty fellow dressed up in poetic form'; while a third prefers Kipling and 'never could get Browning. Why didn't he say it in prose instead of the awful way he did?'"

- Robert and Helen Lynd, Middletown: A Study in American Culture (1929)

Friday, September 24, 2010

On Genre, Journals, and Student-hood

In recent posts (Sept. 7 & 10), I reflected on the relative merits of print vs. on-line journals. The occasion was (is) a new journal being put together by some young writers I know. So, I've become more aware of editorial statements by grad student editors of literary journals.

One such statement recently made me do a double-take. The Editor in Chief, in her note, states that "Here at X, we've never been known for our strict adherence to genre definitions; on the contrary, we've been pretty outspoken about our interest in examining, stretching, blurring, and even shattering the boundaries that define all types of creative genres." An editor after my own heart; so far, so good.

But, of course, there are other editors at the journal, and at X, like so many, those sub-editors are defined by the genres they edit: creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, art, period. No "'Other' editor"; no "boundary-shattering department."

So in the Introduction, written by an Editorial Assistant, we find that "two pieces in this issue of X by G.W. offered a unique voice, approach, and, most interesting to me, a unique need for classification. It was the decision of this Editorial Board that '[title A]' would be published as nonfiction, and '[title B]' as a poem. . . . It's worth mentioning that these were submitted to our editor without the benefit of a genre assignment, the sole note [from the author] on the matter being . . . I'm just not sure what these are. Do with them as you see fit." [Go, G.W.!]

Rather than being an exciting opportunity and opening for examining, stretching and blurring, this note set the classificatory bees to buzzing about their work: these submissions "were thrown into the editorial fray for us, as editors, to decide not only their value to the magazine, but also how they would be presented. Some easily recognizable characteristics helped sort out the genre question for each piece. '[title A]' is longer, and broken up into . . . sections, where as '[title B]' is only twenty stanzas. This isn't to say that a poem couldn't be longer than an essay, but, in general, this is not usually the case." The former genre employs "proof and argument, rather than observation" or trope, which characterize the latter. Poetry "seeks to bear witness to the world, while creative nonfiction attempts to struggle with the questions that arise because of it."

Moreover, the Editorial Board was clear that "there was some risk in taking them and deciding for ourselves their individual genres; that perhaps only one could be taken to avoid this decision."

Why the "need" for classification? Why the sense of risk and trepedation? In my view, this statement is an excellent example of genre at work as an institution. Here we see genres operating as departments (or fiefdoms): who would get to make the call about each piece - the poetry editor, or the nonficiton editor? More importantly, perhaps, who would decide who would get to make the call? I imagine that, in the editorial meeting, there was a delicacy in articulating, when these issues became clear - followed by a "fray."

Secondly, there is the disobedience of the author, who refuses to pidgeonhole his own work, but rather has the nerve to ask the editors to make that editorial decision (or not). One gets the sense that if G.W. were not pretty well-known, the editors might not have taken either piece. ("404. genre assignment missing. this operation has committed a fatal error and must be shut down")

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is the status of (many of) the editorial board as students. The Editor, she of the examining, blurring, etc., is a faculty member. The Editorial Assistant who expresses such anxiety about achieving the correct genre classification is a student. Being a student is perforce being subordinate - and hence, insecure. You don't want to look foolish in front of your peers ("you call that a poem?!"), and for grad students, this condition is exascerbated by the confusion as to when one ceases to be a student and begins being a colleague. Your creative-writing teachers have most likely defined their careers by specializing in one genre or the other (certainly not by mongrelizing intermixture!).

So the question naturally becomes, not whether or not genre is an aid or a hindrance to creativity, but rather, to which genre shall said piece be consigned. For these reasons, one is much more likely, I think, to see a non-genre or trans-genre section in a journal which is not beholden to a university for patronage, or in which one individual has editorial control.

I'm sure there are many (if not most) students who are comfortable with genre - and who might be relieved that some of their creative endeavor is already decided for them ahead of time ("my piece bears witness to the world - must be a poem. Whew!"). But there are a growing number of writers (and artists) both inside and outside academe who see genre as, if not a prison-house, then definitely just another tool to be taken up, put down, or refashioned at will. I expect the editor of X is one such person, and it is indeed incumbent upon those of us who are faculty (esp. the endangered species of tenured faculty) to create a space for that kind of work.

But putting students at their ease about publishing genre-bending work is harder. The publishing market is over-saturated, and the academic job market is super-hyper-saturated. Nobody wants to make a false move. Nobody wants to slip up. Being without a genre is, in some sense, being off the map. Who wants to be there, before you've even gotten anywhere?

All of which is also kind of sad. But hopefully, the young genre quotin' and totin' writers of today will at some point decide they're too old to give a shit, start writing whatever they want, and let the young folks worry about sorting it out.

Monday, September 20, 2010

You Said It, Brother!

"I called the upshot of the events soulless. I called the upshot of the events history-less. I equated lack of history with lack of soul. I turned a deaf ear to the chain of news items. I thought of the news system as wanting me deaf. I set myself up against the news system, on higher ground. I listened. . . . I felt I did not have much anger in me. I felt I was a quiet person. I felt the sky being torn apart. I heard quietude say: go along, go along. Though inexperienced, I was not tempted by quietude. I considered everybody untemptable. I thought of the many as not facing up to their untemptability, not opening up to their own purity, not preparing for the vision of themselves."

- from Language Death Night Outside, by Peter Waterhouse, trans. Rosmarie Waldrop (Burning Deck 2009).

Friday, September 17, 2010

NO SOAP at The Collagist

Which is better than no soap at the gym. Or no room at the inn.

Anyway, No Soap is a book I'm writing, and the first "chapter" is in this month's issue of The Collagist. This is very much a work in progress, so if you have any suggestions (or even observations), pls let er rip.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

You Said It, Sister!

"Enough poetry and novels. Those resolutely surveyed territories. Those paralysed spaces surrounded by smugness, which eradicate themselves as they are erected. Speak to me instead of what eludes genre, what eludes situation . . . Who has not yet understood that the risk, there, of the nation - of territorialisation - is also that of literary, littoral, plottings." [Nathalie Stephens, from Notebook of Discord (Carnet de desaccords). Excerpted in Volt 15 (2010), p. 128]

God Hates Flags.

I've also been reading the wonderful Language Death Night Outside, by Peter Waterhouse, trans. Rosemarie Waldrop, subtitled "POEM. Novel." I wonder if the non-English-Speaking World is way ahead of us when it comes to thinking about literary form(s).

Friday, September 10, 2010

More on Print v. Digital

There are, of course, BEAUTIFUL print journals. Volt, for instance. It is so tactilly and visually appealing that I find myself rubbing it against my chest somtimes (or I could, anyways). Ditto for P-Queue and a lot of others. Covers, too - the one on the last Tinfish, or several Forklift, Ohio's. If you wish to appeal to touch, print is the only and obvious way to go - with smooth-finished covers or letterpress covers that bear the impress of the type. This is the idea behind Slow Poetry. Anything 3-D is still best in print. Or, if you are appealing to a retro-techno abject aesthetic - whether mimeo, or stapled and spraypainted (a la With + Stand) or just photocopied and stapled, like Abraham Lincoln (the journal - the president died of a gunshot wound, I'm pretty sure), then dead trees and ink-dust are the way to go.

The best of the smallest print journals sell out. That's a minus, from the reader/librarian point of view, since if you didn't get one, you're SOL.

And there are a lot of crappy-looking on-line journals. And there are a lot of boring and mediocre-looking print ones.

Print: who is going to keep up with subscriptions? How soon will they cash the checks? (that's my pet peeve) Are you going to sell ads? Who's going to do the selling? Who will do the grant-writing and fundraising to capitalize the venture (i.e., pay for all the paper and printing)? Will you allow libraries to invoice you? Even if you do, how will you get them interested?

If I were running an on-line journal, I'd send e-mails to the periodicals librarian at all the universities and colleges where I wanted my journal to be read, pointing them to the URL and asking them to put it in their on-line catalog ("freely available via the internet," is the U of KS libraries' tag line). Then I'd follow up with a postcard in a few months, if it wasn't in the catalog already. Remember: libraries are cancelling print journals and increasingly relying on digtial substitutes.
AND (at ours, anyway) it's a heck of a lot easier to get them to order a multi-thousand dollar database than a $15 little mag subscription - b/c the former will invoice and fill out a W-9, etc.

Postage. I'm a huge fan of the Postal Service (UPS sucks, IMO), but it still costs more money than an internet "hit."

You can't link directly to pieces of paper.

You can't do audio, video, animation, podcasts, RSS feeds on paper - and it's more expensive to do still images.

Which is worse for the environment: a grove of felled trees, or a bucket of burnt coal? (I honestly don't know the answer)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Print vs. On-Line Journals

I've been engaged in a coversation with some young friends who wish to start a literary journal. I'm arguing that they should provide all of the content for each issue digitally (i.e., on-line). I'd love to hear comments from people who have edited either print or on-line journals, as to the relative advantages and disadvantages of each. Here is a note I sent them recently, detailing my own thinking re: the topic:

Biggest practical advantages to print (IMO): (1.) Better resolution. Screen resolutions are getting better, but they’re still only (what?) 1/4 or 1/5 as sharp as print. (2.) Portability: it’s a lot easier to take a 5 oz. journal to bed than a 7-lb. iPad or Kindle. (3.) Write-ability – if you mark stuff up, like I do, print is cheaper and better than a tablet computer that does so. All three of these problems will be resolved, sooner rather than later, but for now, they aren’t.

Biggest practical advantages to on-line: (1.) Cheapness. This is going to be important, if you don’t want to spend time doing your own fundraising, grant-writing, etc. (esp. since we’re at KU); you can have bigger, more frequent issues, for less money; (2.) Accessibility and immediacy. It’s easier to get, so more likely to be read. How many people send in the check, then wait for the thing to arrive – or even go to the library? How many journals do they already subscribe to? How many people in other countries subscribe to US lit journals? (3.) More content options: audio, video, MUCH easier/cheaper to do graphics, visual art.

As to the prestige thing, I don’t at all mean to suggest that the Internet is losing in prestige – quite the contrary. Internet publishing is a fact of life; there are fewer print journals now than there were 10 years ago, plus more well-respected on-line journals, and I think that trend is only going to continue as budgets everywhere shrink. Only the very wealthy institutions are going to be able to financially afford print. This is my principal reason for hoping you all decide to go digital: to adopt a forward-looking attitude. That’s something I think our CW program could use more of.

I think there is indeed some of that dead-tree fetishism lingering in academe – though that is disappearing quickly, as more peer-reviewed journals go on-line. It’s usually the cultural conservatives who see on-line journals as the death of Western Civilization. In fact, you can pretty much tell how conservative a poet’s poetics are by seeing whether s/he has any on-line pubs. If there are lots, s/he’s probably more experimental; if there aren’t any, s/he’s probably pretty conservative.

I expect there is a greater reliance on print for fiction, since there are more commercial publishers. But, by the same token, such a journal needs to be very well capitalized going into it. And stay well-capitalized.

As to access to computers’ being an impediment: I would love to think there are inner-city schoolchildren who are or will be reading literary journals produced by Euro-American college students. But let’s face it: everyone who’s reading this thing is going to have access to a computer. And if it’s print, they’ll either have to afford the subscription price or have access to a library that carries it – big if’s. As for sifting them, there are sites such as Selby’s List ( and Web del Sol’s list of e-journals ( that do a good job of weeding out the rubbish. And there are some storied periodicals that have gone exclusively on-line (e.g., TriQuarterly:

One does have to decide for oneself, however, and that holds for print as well as on-line; hopefully, if you’re an aspiring writer, that’s something you’d like to do – and it’s a whole lot easier to sift on-line. There are a lot of crappy or mediocre print journals: The [insert place name] Review – though often you don’t know that until you’ve bought it. For these reasons, I believe on-line is actually a good bit more democratic than print.