My very close friend Andrew Leland has started blogging for the Oakland Museum of California. He only has three posts up; he has been very shy about it. The link is here. I was with him when he saw that the most recent post had gone up, and he was like, “This reads like a college newspaper column. I hate myself.”
“Andrew,” I told him. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s great.”
“Really?” He said. So self-obsessed, so delicate. “Thanks.”
The blog isn’t bad. He’s trying. He also told me he recently tried writing fiction, because a young lion who edits a young lionesian quarterly asked him to submit something. “Writing fiction is excruciating,” he reports. “I spent a week forcing myself to write 750 words a day. Then I went two months without thinking about it. I returned to the document I had created, and my wonderful girlfriend had to pry the screwdriver out of my hands before I plunged it into my eye sockets.” Writing nonfiction isn’t much easier, he added, but then when it’s done, he feels happy.
Last Saturday, Andrew and I were hanging out at his apartment in San Francisco. I had my tape recorder, and we thought it would be fun to record our conversation. Last night I couldn’t sleep, so I transcribed it.
ME: That’s not why dogs are neutered, Andrew. [Laughter]
ANDREW: Just kidding.
ME: I adore your shoes!!
AL: I love you. I wish I could smoke pot
just kidding, that’s not a real transcript. Tonight is the Oakland Standard’s launch party — officially selected by Good Jobbbbbbbbbbbb: The Online Journal of Success as the number-one Friday Night social calendar PICK for Friday, February 4. The Tammy-Rae MacArthur Genius Kutundu-Wajahat Mother Novella Carpenter’s Gothic part starts at 8, then Turf Fienz at I wanna say 9, then Chelsea Clinton’s Wedding DJ (seriously, literally) at whenever everything else is over. It’s free, it’ll go till 1, one is advised to “come through.” One block from Lake Merritt BART. Alcohol, bikes, leggings. At least three generations of Americans, dancing.
Ariana Reines posted a breathless (her paragraph breaks were lost in the posting) 1,400-word comment-response to Emily Gould’s Poetry Foundation review of Eileen Myles’s Inferno:
And your editors, you people, whoever you are, next time you commission a review from someone who is spunky and inexperienced, make sure you don’t publish it until something genuinely thorough has been written. What could praise possibly be worth when it comes with so little attention? The excellent essay that mainly deplores, but also appreciates, the poetry of Robert Hass, on this site, is a perfect example of everything this review fails to be: even to lambast an oeuvre so zestfully, as the author of that Hass essay does, is still a labor of sustained attention and care, ultimately the least that a ’30-plus year career’ deserves.
The Hass review she’s talking about is by Michael Robbins, whom I only discovered yesterday (via Village Voice editor @xZachBaronx). He has a poem in the December issue of Poetry that’s scathing and funny and full of weird smart uncomfortable sound:
You shouldn’t drink diarrhea
unless you bring enough for everybody.
Turn it into a teaching moment.
Asian-American Students for Christ
have the room until 2:30.
Rumi says no donkey is a virgin,
no, nor any beast that bites the grass.
Maybe it sounds better in Persian.
An unseen force propels the carts
across the Whole Foods parking lot.
I’m still surprised by the vituperative anger and spleen poets express in person and off-stage, when they’re not standing on the deceptively mellow and miniature platform of poetry. In a commentary on “Confessional Poem,” Robbins writes, “That poem was written out of anger with someone, a former friend. It’s my poison tree.”
links to other stuff omitted and/or included in above two links, plus the New Yorker poem that touched off all this interest, which Robbins compares to “the feeble glow cast by the reflected disco light in the splintered windshield of a Ford Taurus passing by the second hippest club in town or something.”]
Even though I’m pointlessly quitting my “good job” don’t worry I’m not trying to “become a writer” so it’s not problematic that I’m doing all this thesisless typing about poetry on my blog while I should be helping my “replacement.” Soon I’ll help dogs with diseases find new leas(h)es on life. In the meantime, I find myself anguishing through the composition of paragraphs like these:
“Plucking from [his] bookshelves almost at random,” in search of support for his argument that high art’s use of pop imagery to represent “symbols and myth” has become culturally widespread, David Foster Wallace finds (among others) the poet Bill Knott. If the essay were being written today, it seems that Wallace could just as happily pluck Michael Robbins from his shelf. (Robbins’s forthcoming first book is called Alien v. Predator, e.g.) Wallace’s reference in E Unibus Pluram to Bill Knott was enough to send me searching for his poems in my college library’s stacks, but I haven’t really heard anything about him since. So I was surprised when another editor of a NY-based alternative newsweekly whose Twitter handle begins with the letter x began linking to the strangely furious blog posts of Bill Knott. This blog post (this one) is 1,000 words too long, unedited and desperate, wayward and wondering one easily put, infinitely less anguished question:
Why are good writers so angry?
Before the Internet, these were the ways you could find out the good poet was angry:
Look at the poems and realize the anger is right there on the page. It’s not buried. This is a big, false problem with my “argument.” Just because it has line breaks and is read by someone wearing a sweater doesn’t mean it’s not white-hot hoppin mad right on the page. Frederick Seidel singes my brows in nearly every poem. (So does Ariana!)
Read a behind-the-scenes memoir-novel such as Myles’s Inferno. (“Kathy was always such a bitch.”)
Emily Gould’s ‘review’ sounds like a high schooler’s personal blog, not the product of what I assume must be some kind of editorial process over at the Poetry Foundation.
and in the comment on the Poetry foundation she writes:
writing criticism of an internet comment by Eileen Myles in what purports to be a review of her novel is ridiculous and me, my awesomely hilarious and controversial poetry reading, Jezebel, and Eileen’s comment belong NOWHERE NEAR a review of her novel unless the reviewer has something absolutely subtle, and stunning, to say about the internet’s relationship to literary production. That authorship, the status of authorship, prose, voice, poetry, and the internet are in uncomfortable relation in these times is certain, and a critic with enough care and acuity might be able to speak purposefully to this strange relation, but she would have to make the case for why.
It’s funny that Reines’s criticism of Gould’s review’s use of a blog comment itself appears in a blog comment. This blog post (this one) is “the feeble glow cast by the reflected disco light in the splintered windshield…” etc.
I guess the best I can hope for is:
I drink some coffee tomorrow and rewrite this post to actually make the case for why literary production has been affected by the internet, and maybe it has something to do with the personal outrage that poets feel and that motivates the composition of their best work.
all the folks mentioned above have google alerts set up for their names and the comments section of THIS POST becomes an organic and LIVING SYLLABUS for things I can read that will prevent me from spending the rest of my life thinking and speaking and writing like a high school blog while injustice and institutional racism bloom and proliferate. Not on my watch!
[A fly lands on a guy’s wristwatch. “Not on my watch!” he shouts as he kills the fly. Or: Two guys are waiting for a train. “Did daylight saving’s time start today?” one asks the other. “Not on my watch!” the other hollers, killing a fly. “Are you a fan of this avant-garde numeral typeface I designed?” Sven asked Karl. “Not on my watch!!” Karl replied, his spittle drowning a family of larvae. “Hey, do you mind if I set down my luggage?” asked the weary Jewish prostitute. “Not on my watch!!!” declaimed Philip, who as you’ll remember had earlier placed his timepiece on the floor. “Do you mind if I use the bathroom?” Priscilla mewled. AND SO ON!!!!]
Every Week We Here at my blog get almost Thousands of letters, emails, texts, mails, balloons, of all stripes — all of them grammatical, all of them fine. A typo or two here or there is actually healthy — in precisely the same way that a forest fire is healthy for Ecology. You’re interested in What Walter Benjamin thought about Paul Klee? Well I’m interested in what you, the reader, think about Paul Klee! Pretty affectionate, pretty generous, I am, huh?
Let’s take a look at some recent letters.
Dear Andrew, How come your name isn’t on your blog? It’s pretty easy if you have an iPhone or even a dial-up internet connection to figure out who you are, but you still kinda fake-occlude your identity on your blog. What gives? I heard you’re vegetarian now? With Real, Romantic Love, Daniel Coane
Samp Stones, NJ
transparency is the new sincerity; many of our peers maintain that it’s psychologically healthy, and artistic, to expose oneself entirely online. Anonymity was so 1990s—the Age of Fake Screen Names. Today, only utter exposure can set one free, while the only thing proscribed is regret.
Maybe I’m old-fashioned? Probably I’m just terrified of my boss. Erotically,
Why do you speak in riddles? Isn’t the point of communication to, like, communicate? What’s the difference between a chat-room conversation and a correspondence conducted via USPS on expensive stationery?
Adults Pretending to be Teenagers
Ads, More like Adults Acting Like Teenagers! I’m thinking about quitting my job.
Whoops That’s all we’ve got time for this week!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
ADAM SPIEGEL, HERE.
I’M A RETIRED NEWSPAPER PUBLISHER. I’M ALSO SIGHT-IMPAIRED (RETINITIS PIGMENTOSA), SO I REQUISITION MY WONDERFUL SISTER POLLY TO READ YOUR NEWSLETTER TO ME. DAILY.
ROUTINELY, UPON REFLECTING ON THE CONTENT OF EACH NEW ISSUE, I AM STRUCK BY THE EXTRAORDINARILY ELEVATED TONE OF ITS PROSE. IT IS SO LUCID, SO EFFICIENTLY INFORMATIVE, SO FULL OF CARE IN ITS SHADING OF INFLAMMATORY ISSUES, THAT TODAY I CAUGHT MYSELF THINKING — AS POLLY FINISHED READING YOUR RECENT PIECE ON WATER AVAILABILITY AND USAGE —
“YOU, SIR, CONTITUTE A STAND-ALONE HEMI-QUANTIFIABLE NATIONAL RESOURCE…
…SO IMPORTANT IS THE SUCCESS OF YOUR ANNUAL OUTPUT.”
I have a Google Alert for retinitis pigmentosa. Occasionally, like a well-meaning pet cat dropping the corpse of a gorgeous titmouse at the feet of its owner, it brings me gifts. (I hope my bad analogy doesn’t seem unkind; I love this letter.)
Free Wi-Fi at the Phoenix airport. I’m one of those guys sitting on the floor near an outlet, working on my laptop. Except I don’t really look like one of those guys, because I’m unshaven and there’s underwear spilling out of my shoulder bag and I’m not wearing a purple short-sleeved polo shirt with a company logo on the breast. Two soldiers in desert camo just sauntered by, at ease but still walking in step with each other. I slept poorly last night so this “text” is going to be awful, not worth your time. Fortunately, it’s still worth my time, which is why I’m writing it. Unclear however why it still then needs to go on the internet, aside from the fact that the magnetic attraction that your potential attention asserts on the “language inside me” serves as a fine stimulus to draw it out. Of me. Otherwise I’m lazy and it’ll stay inside while I check my email again and again.
My friend met me at the airport in Albuquerque and told me he hadn’t eaten even though he’d had a layover in Phoenix because he was boycotting the entire state of Arizona. As I deplaned in Phoenix just now a douchey blonde guy looked through me, aggressively unsympathetic to my humanity, as far as I could tell, only because I wasn’t the brother in law he was waiting for. I felt like flipping twin birds at everyone within eyeshot and declaiming, clearly and loudly, “FUCK YOU, PHOENIX, AND EVERYTHING ELSE CONTAINED BY THE STATE OF ARIZONA, INCLUDING ME, AND ALL OF THIS PIZZA. BECAUSE OF YOUR IMMIGRATION POLICIES, I GUESS”
On the plane I read more of the New Yorker 20 under 40 issue. Yesterday, which seems like a long time ago, I wrote this about the Josh Ferris story:
(I’m on a sadness junket in Santa Fe.) I thought “Pilot,” Joshua Ferris’s story in the 20 under 40 issue of the New Yorker, was great. I haven’t read his first novel, which I know is written in first-person plural, but I was very impressed by the narrative control of this new story. It’s written in the “close third-person,” where the narrative voice is contained entirely by one consciousness, except it’s communicated with a “he” or “she” instead of an “I.” Maybe a better term for “Pilot”‘s voice is “the clingy third person.”
Lawrence is a newly, shakily recovered alcoholic filmmaker who can’t believe he’s been invited to a fashionable Hollywood party, doesn’t want to go, but feels he must for the sake of the TV pilot he’s writing. He’s desperately insecure and spends most of the story neurotically trying to engage other people, to get the things he needs without appearing so clingy. The story reads as if it were written in a more conventional third person — “He thought, ‘I should get out of here,'” e.g. — but then Lawrence’s voice, so strong and desperate and charming, has sort of crawled up inside the third person narrative and infected that voice with its self-obsession and neediness. The result is a pleasure to read. Ferris didn’t invent this technique, but he deploys it beautifully.
Who cares about my take on Joshua Ferris’s narrative control! I do(n’t)! Not sure if this is a journalistically responsible article. Phoenix Airport free Wi-Fi is barely functional. I’m entitled to one full meal for every delayed layover I have, regardless of the hour or Arizona’s immigration policy.
The Jonathan Safran Foer story irritated me even as I found parts of it familiar, smart, and…. “original.” I think it would be funny to write a novel that marketed itself as “vegetarian fiction.” I like the idea that Tao Lin writes “vegan fiction,” if if he doesn’t market it as such. Foer’s “Here We Aren’t, So Quickly” is a vegetarian story. Not a lot of meat in it, but plenty of complex carbohydrates and vegetable proteins. That’s a joke, insofar as I don’t know what it means and I’m saying it only because I like to.
I can’t help reading all of these 20 under 40 stories imagining their authors writing them at the behest of the New Yorker’s fiction editors. “Hey, Dinaw, submit a story to the 20 under 40 thing. You have a shot.” All fiction everywhere is “by definition” contrived, but these stories are maybe more contrived than usual. For that reason. Which doesn’t nec. make them bad. Solicited = contrived, unless the fiction writer responds to the solicitation with a piece of fiction they’d already written but not published, submitting something they wrote uncontrivedly. Which is impossible, because nothing is written uncontrivedly. But there are degrees. The Ferris story is contrived and great. I’m not as crazy about the Foer story. It’s my fault that I read it as a second-person half-fictional sexy love note to his wife, novelist Nicole Krauss, and it’s my lightweight brain alone that makes me read the “house” he refers to in the last paragraph as their dope brownstone in [specific part of Brooklyn TK]. My bad my bad
The Rivka Galchen story is great. It’s narrated by a woman who, like Galchen, has just published a well-received novel. Like the Ferris story, it features an unproduced television pilot. It’s also the first instance of an fictional, ekphrastic blog I can think of, there must be more: icantstandmywife.blogspot.com. (As of this writing, no one has yet reserved this blog. Which is surprising. Full disclosure: Phoenix Airport Wi-Fi has officially crapped out so I can’t check. I’d be surprised if Galchen didn’t reserve it herself. Update: PHX Wi-Fi never resolved, so I’m posting this from California, and of course someone, probably Galchen, reserved the URL. Goodnight)
I skipped the story called “What You Do Out Here, When You’re Alone.” Rant about this sort of declarative second-person short-story title TK, ad naus. Let me know if you read this story, by Philipp Meyer, and if you think I could’ve learned something about myself by reading it. If you think the horizons of my limited worldview would’ve been pushed out a hectare or two. If so, I’ll read it.
More misc. notes on this New Yorker, June 14 & 21, 2010: The spread of illos of the writers (p. 90-1) is pointless and unappetizing. There are Q&As online, huh? That sounds good, but then What is the point of printing these straightforward, moody, photo-based line illos??? At least list the names of their favorite newspapers or where they went to elementary school or how many siblings they have alongside their portraits. The Chris Ware cover, on the other hand, and like the Steve Powers illos with the Shteyngart, are wonderful. Something has been beeping off to my left for a few minutes. (I’m sitting at gate A2. Come say hi!! This is a rebroadcast of a previous episode) Reading through these stories I was occasionally like, “this is awesome, but when I finally man up and decide to write fiction myself, my fiction is going to be all gnarly and unexpected and different and rad, and a drug-addict teenager in upstate new york is going to read it and decide that [oh my god, sorry, redacted]” but then I read the Gary Shteyngart story, and that thought bubble immediately dissolved, and I realized Ah, shit, this is it, he did it, damn, etc, I am mollified.