Ptarmigan

a grouse with completely feathered feet

2/22/2005

Another must read screed from Daily Kos today:

"The Democratic Party and the left cannot effectively bash by using counter-culture, but instead by proving, that, in fact, the Republicans are the anti-culture."

The Tiptree final decisions have been made, although not announced. We're still hammering out the long and short lists and the annotations. It's been an amazingly rewarding experience.

So, my reading load has been a lot lighter after this weekend. In celebration, I'm actually going to do a blog-meme-list thingy in a non-sarcastic way. This is the "10 things I've done that you probably haven't" meme

My life has been pretty boring. But here's what I came up with:

1. Seen an albino stag in the wild.

2. Nearly had my arm ripped off by an elephant named Bubbles (not in the wild).

3. Shook hands with Bill Clinton twice in one month on opposite ends of the country.

4. Discussed (briefly) the state of literary scholarship with Lynne Cheney.

5. Wrote a text-adventure game in the first person plural.

6. Visited Auschwitz on Good Friday. A dreary, gut-wrenching day.

7. Had Wallace Shawn bound down the stairs of the prof's house where my English class was being held (my prof and him were significant others). INCONCEIVABLE!

8. Spent all night in the Trenton, NJ train station (and that...was not good)

9. Turned down the opportunity to teach at a cable-car accessible Swiss boarding school on the side of a mountain.

10. Introduced the game of Mafia to the world of science fiction.

I would love to see a list of, say, a 15th century English peasant.

2/11/2005

"D00d, Modernism Sux" redux

This time it's from a much bigger fish, our current poet laureate of America, Ted Kooser...from an excerpt from his Poetry Home Repair Manual:

A lot of this resistance to poetry is to be blamed on poets. Some go out of their way to make their poems difficult if not downright discouraging, because diffi cult poems are what they think they’re expected to write to advance their careers. They know it’s the professional interpreters of poetry—book reviewers, professional literary critics—who most often establish a poet’s reputation, and that those interpreters are attracted to poems that offer opportunities to show off their skills at interpretation. A poet who writes poetry that doesn’t require explanation, who writes clear and accessible poems, is of little use to critics building their own careers as interpreters. But a clear and accessible poem can be of use to an everyday reader.


Btw, who is this "everyday reader"? Btw, he actually references "beret-wearing poets" later in this little snippet as a kind of anti-cultural touchstone. Super.

2/10/2005

So I was looking at Pokey the Penguin and there is a new Pokey posted!

As well as the collaborative Skepto-maze!:

You are in Florida Orange Juice. The only people, or things, there are Positive Bread, Negative Bread, Sketchpad, random birds, a cane, small pebbles, random plants, clouds, holes, gophers, a hadicap parking sign, a blank sign, and buildings. You see Negative Bread come out from behind a building. What do you do?


Indeed.


So this is "The Post" that I've been working on since 1/3. I've cut out about 60%.
I've muddled through to some speculative elements of speculative writing:

1. inchoate wonder (id)
2. extrapolative precision (superego)
3. the speculative "breath" (ego)

These 3 will probably need some explaining. And feel free to ignore the little parentheticals I put there. Purely for demonstration purposes, ymmv, etc.

The first involves primordial feelings of adventure, eyeball kicks, and pure-grade "cool shit." Taken on its own, it's pretty much devoid of societal value but as can be seen it's always done as a complement to the other two pieces. Whether this adventure is inculcated at an early age or innate is likely open to debate. (I've been reading a book called The Ideology of Adventure, and that might throw this whole one-third of my theory for a loop).

The second might be, on the surface, self-explanatory. But this is also a constantly moving target; in the early issues of Amazing Stories, even Poe was reprinted by Gernsback as an extrapolative writer. This doesn't necessarily mean "hard science only."

The third might be the most difficult to explain--and "breath" felt like an imprecise term. It's a term from poetics, involving the space between lines, the line as a unit of measure as opposed to the sentence. What is the "unit of measure" for a work of speculative fiction? It is, for my money, phrasal and syntactical; namely, the common example of "Her world exploded" being presented, in a speculative space, in quite a different way than in a story that is coded as "realistic." But the brain has to make a turn to parse that sentence speculatively; and this is done only through language. It's not done through the idea but rather the execution of the idea; namely, the style. And even a poorly written SF piece is shooting for this type of reorientation of thought. In other words, the choice to write speculative fiction is a stylistic choice in of itself.

How these three different elements blend together in a story, poem, etc. is what gives pieces their different inflections, writers their different toolkits.

Thoughts? Does this make sense or is it way too obvious?

2/09/2005

Aaand if anyone's interested, I posted a new speculative poetry exercise at Taverner's Koans. Try them all! All two.

John Klima was kind enough to post my story "A Keeper", which appeared in the 6th issue of his excellent zine Electric Velocipede, here.

2/04/2005

I don't want to give this person anymore airtime than necessary, but I had to post something about Richard Trayson's article on the evils of experimental poetry, specifically Language poetry. Not as much for his specious "argument," which could be summed up as "D00d, language poetry SUX and Whitman is so 1337 and Whitman would say language poetry SUX--w00t". Rather, it's fascinating how his article is laden with the kinds of, er, "issues" that seem to inflect both his own poetry and the type of poetry that he's purporting is the gold standard.

Here's one of the paragraphs from his article that I was thinking of:
I had a bitter taste of language poetry in the first literary magazine I bought, the November/December 1985 issue of American Poetry Review. Leslie Scalapino was on the cover, but it was the Sharon Olds poems that I craved. It was misfortunate for my sense of language poetry that I came to Scalapino’s "that they were at the beach—aeolotropic series" after I’d read Olds’ frighteningly powerful "I Go Back to May 1937" and early scalp-raising versions of poems that would appear in The Father (1992). Scalapino’s work, by comparison, was emotionally flat, unengaging, uneventfully bland...[excerpt given]

This wasn’t my idea of any poetry I wanted to live by—so I packed my bags and moved to New York to study with Sharon Olds.

You thought that this was an article about Whitman, didn't you? But instead it's...The Richard Tayson Show, Starring Richard Tayson! He's seemingly oblivious to the fact that it's this exact kind of cloying narcissism (coupled with not-so-subtle name-drops to teachers, to show how one's own work has garnered official approval and therefore is "making it" as a Real Poet) that the poets he disparages are reacting to in the first place.

Let's look at the beginnings of one of his poems (you can read the rest here):

After the Vanishing

I didn't know what the movie was about
but I was angry at you for not wanting
health insurance or western
medicine, I phoned 777-FILM
and found the closest theater with a 2:45,
I put on my winter coat and said
it's your life, not mine, I'm going to a show.
I didn't know it would be about losing
the person you love in the prime
of your life together, I stood
on the corner of Henry and Orange
and heard the voice of Louise Hay,
her meditations you kept playing
over and over until I hoped
she'd become mute in some tragic accident,
I sat down in the dark to forget you.zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Positively scintillating, isn't it? And this is the poet who calls for a return of the Whitmanesque, who is pretty much setting himself in the article as a contemporary Whitman? My god. (After all, he has the gall to speak for Whitman: "I think if he were here today he would boldly state that we are pursuing the wrong course and would bow his head in perplexity.") Notice how the self-romanticizing figure in this essay is pretty much a carbon copy of the self-romanticizing figure in this poem. The only difference is that one set of sentences has line breaks and the other doesn't. The act of necromancy he performs on Whitman's ghost is little more than clearing the field for one's own preferred poetic turf. Although he makes a rather lame attempt at the end to acknowledge "Experimentation is key, and there are many modes of experiment, Language Poetry being merely one." The problem is that he really doesn't have any clue what Language poetry is, and never defines it; it's something rather specific. (I certainly wouldn't consider Leslie Scalapino a Language poet at all.) So, a rather broad brush.

There's legitimate room to talk about various ways to incorporate the body and the body politic into writing. This is beyond narrative or anti-narrative; it's about actually being well-read enough about a subject that you dislike so you can legitimately criticize it. Conversely, I think that a lot of experimental poets who critique the bland realism that Tayson is championing do so BECAUSE that type of writing (Olds, Doty, Clifton, etc.) is considered so normative. They often know it--and decided to move away from it.

The fact that he is "well-published" and has won a book contest only supports the fact that his prose-with-line-breaks is pretty much in the bland, dead center of American verse. "No to cleverness, surface luminosity, trickery, language for its own sake—attributes disdained by America’s least ironic poet but now often touted as the next 'new' thing," he writes. But his own construction of his own self is the ultimate trickery; a work, if nothing else, of intense cleverness--his work is unproblematized and clear to a fault, and clearly comfortable in using whatever materials necessary to Getting Ahead.


I have to admit that I'm looking forward to Mos Def in the role of Ford Prefect in the upcoming Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie.

2/02/2005

Inconstancy

Well, what happened? What happens. My mind is a moving target and it's wandered off to something else. Which means that my chess fiction blog is DOA after 3 entries. I know, that short. It usually drags on for a little while more, but I decided to put it out of its misery. If I'm not interested in it, I'm not--and I don't know what process goes on that has me move from writing project to writing project. So why apologize for it? It's been instructive, in a way, trying to be honest with myself about this. I'm distrustful of persistence--I mean, in that masochistic way, that "just put the blinders on and forge ahead at all costs" sort of way. I honestly think that some writers are persistent for the wrong reasons. Of course, little nudges and tricks to play on oneself, say, for a day, week, or even a month are well and good. We're fickle and lazy creatures at heart, and if that fire does burn--I mean, that complete immersion into a text--then a stoke here and there is certainly good.

And I don't know, maybe I'm just missing the boat and the fact that I lose interest in things easily is really anomalous. The interest, often, picks back up at some point. They are like planetary orbits. At some point the different fields (fantasy, poetry, SF, interactive fiction, whatever) come back again.

But ironclad constancy at all costs, I think, can become corrosive when it gets tied into ambition at all costs. There is this fascinating quote I found in the archives of the Buffalo poetics list from Tom Mandel:

Neglect, lack of official endorsement; surely these are relative, surely too they are a just reward for the restless and radical desire to write. To imagine that there is a locus of power relevant to writing that exists outside the authority of that desire, which is self-permitted and demanded, is a foolish illusion. Knock long enough at the door of the one place which you imagine it matters to be published...and no doubt you will be let in and learn that they place and object associated with the idea and work are strictly irrelevant. Must it not be the case that the energy invested in imagining the opposite cd [sic] be better invested in re-imagining one's work? Isn't there, for every one of us, someone who imagines that we have more power than they?


Ambition as opposed to desire--summoning extraneous forces to bolster oneself as the writer as persona.

Does this privateering create a system that cultivates winners--and therefore "losers"? If so, it is indeed kind of strange, considering that in SF/F (and to a lesser extent, poetry), let's face it, a lot--not all, but a lot--of the writers and readers and fans at one point or many point in their lives have felt the stings of loserdom, esp. in adolescence. So SF/F becomes a way to "rebrand" oneself. SF/F a generous enough (a strength!) and porous enough field that people with marginal talent can bullhorn their way in. The ambition itself creates a speculative game of king of the hill, a space that can only be combative--even though it may be great for work habits. And when this ambition isn't linked with kindness, compassion, and decency...it's nasty. However illusory that power is, if people believe in it, then it only feeds into the interior drama of this ambition.

So much of this is the ghost of the dead pulp tradition. Right, it's dead. It really is. On a purely professional level, he writers who follow this model--the neopro privateering at all costs--are to the 20s-40s pulp writers as contemporary masonic lodges are to the original Knights Templar. Of course, the same could be said for the droves of ass-hat memoirists-in-verse who descend on Breadloaf every late summer to get drunk and schmooze, schmooze deep into the night. And I remember how much I wanted that ten years ago! To get one of those stupid fucking waiter scholarships. ("Waiter"...both waiting on the tables of real writers and waiting for one's time as a poet--to show everyone just how genius you are!). And I'm sure none of this is new--if we were all transported back to, say, 2nd century Persia, I'm sure I'd be bitching about how x writer was getting more influence at the court than y writer, or whatever.

This is really getting out of hand on my part; it's one am and I'm rapidly losing coherency. I'm not going down this road just for the sake of it, but to really figure it out--because I really, really think it has a lot to do with the way we not only think about SF/F (or whatever mode) but also how the very work is produced--the worlds written about, or not written about. And which books are bought and not bought (by editors, I mean--the public is a whole other ballgame). It matters how we look at each other. I want to think, every day, that my writing helps me become a more decent person. The core of personhood is at the center of what I write. What I write may change, and sometimes my interest in stupid byways might puzzle me, but that keenness to write in the first place, despite mutations and inconstancies of subject matter and form, that in itself gives me hope, and always has.

Mandel also said: "Your work is a lifelong arc (well, a much more complex shape than that); its weaknesses, lapses, gaps may contribute to strength."

Here's to weakness.