Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Joyland: A Hub for Short Fiction

Joyland: A Hub For Short Fiction, is a very interesting online literary journal which divides the work it publishes into a number of regions around the U.S. Some are specifically cities: Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Vancouver, and San Francisco, among others. Others have a broader focus, like Joyland South or Midwest or Montreal Atlantic. All of them feature intriguing and often innovative fiction.

Joyland Los Angeles, for whom at least one of the editors is Mathew Timmons, is now featuring some short fictions from my flash fictions manuscript The Measure Everything Machine and Other Sketches. I hope you’ll take a look. Joyland Los Angeles has published fiction by a number of really great southern California writers, including Kate Durbin, Anna Joy Springer, Sesshu Foster, and Amanda Ackerman, among others.

Mathew tells me that Joyland is intending to expand, soon, to include poetry as well as fiction, so check back in again later to see what else they’re doing.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bureaucracy Series 2011

Just in case anyone doesn't know I work for a living, I present the following:

Bureaucracy Series 2011

The institutional meeting: never does it take so many so long to do so little.

Why would I need to go to MLA? I’m already on Facebook, aren’t I?

This hyperactive anxiety and trapped feeling is exactly what involving oneself in American university, intellectual, artistic, and broader public discourse causes. I guess I’m finally home again and ready to go to work.

Now playing seriously discordant music, so that organized chaos can bludgeon the chaos of organization out of my head... temporarily, I know.

Academic gossip = low-hanging fruit.

Who administrates the administrators in these U.S. universities? And if the only answer is, “More administrators and Boards of Directors,” then we’re headed for trouble.

Hundreds served yearly.

Becoming a bureaucrat: Nature or Nurture?

In my dreams last night, I learned that I can't take a bus ride, hang out with friends, eat a plate of chicken fingers, and make it back to class on time when I only have a five-minute break between classes. My dreams were very insistent on this point.

People who insist that educational standards are too low but then make angry phone calls if their children don't get A's? I see... perhaps you wanted higher standards only for others?

My office has windows, but not windows that can be opened.

E-mail Question: Who do I ask about this? Response: Please contact the site administrator. Question: Who is the site administrator? Response: I am. I’ll get back to you about this.

Why do something burdensome and vaguely necessary once when you can also do it a second time, totally uselessly?
These complicated online grading systems often act as if progressive teaching pedagogy has never happened. All these bells, clangs, and whistles, yet the systems still assume that instructors mark “errors” in red ink.

A company is an organization, with means at its disposal. So why shouldn't workers also have an organization with means at its disposal? Of course organizations on either side can take advantage of conditions, and often do, but fundamentally, both sides in any work related discussion should be treated similarly in terms of their relationships to organizations, and the laws that allow them to organize. Therefore: if corporations can exist, unions can exist.

I want to be in a band called Job Application Screening Death Machine.

In my dream, we reviewed job candidates by having one white man put on black face and imitate a candidate, then take off the black face, put it on again and imitate another candidate, each time kneeling with his hands behind his back, execution-style. Really, oh my unconscious? Really?

What goal could life have other than moving the maximum possible number of units?

May I gently suggest that creating another official document might cause more problems than it solves?

That moment when I tell people how things work at my university and they look at me in stunned or incredulous silence.

I is an institutional function.

Long hours of discussion about problems no one is going to try to solve!

Event Listings “needs” information about the event three months in advance, while Events Planning will let you plan it about a month in advance.

May the infrastructure have mercy on my poor wiring.

Your advice is logical, but unfortunately the situation is not.
The structure announced that it was pleased with itself despite the challenges that lay ahead.

Bureaucracy encourages passivity because, over time, the blockades it sets up make even valuable actions feel not worth the effort.

I love exclamation points! In work correspondence! Proves we love our jobs and institutions! That we look forward brightly to our future institutional work! With high spirits! Never enough exclamation points!!!!! SO Happy To Be Here and Use Them!!!!!!!!

In an era when institutions are supposed to create “vision statements,” I keep wondering what it would look like to see an institution having a vision.

My campus appears to be using an online computer system that has bugs and that also has no readily identifiable source to contact regarding problems. The great computerized future of education continues to amaze.

This time of year, I could do my job more effectively if I could be purchased in a 3-pack.

When I look over the broad, debris-strewn expanse of bureaucratic documentation that I have to complete in the next few weeks so that it can sit barely touched, in some cases for years, in a computer capsule, I’m moved to an almost mystical awe at the human capacity to create non-essential work.

I left one meeting today at the moment when people were debating whether the official paragraph about where professors should keep student papers was a rule or a guideline.

I’m afraid that if I complain on Facebook about how many recommendations I have to write, someone is going to see it and ask me to write them a recommendation.

After a long discussion, the committee finally agreed that it would be important to take some kind of action.

The first business before the committee: whether it really was the officially authorized committee for examining the work of other committees.

When I feel myself losing faith in the U.S. education system, along comes a man like Chancellor Reed, who raises the salary of top administrators in the CSU system, expands the teams of lawyers designed to protect them, moves trustee and other decision-making meetings to private, undisclosed locations, and tries to finance it all with funds gained by attacking faculty and staff salaries, workload, and bargaining rights, as well as faculty academic freedom, and by massively and frequently raising the tuition of an often naive or complacent student body, more of whom are getting it all the time and speaking their minds in public protests where they can be assaulted by police with paramilitary style weapons who claim to be ensuring everybody's safety.

When, after months of long work hours using the performative friendliness and defensive wariness that allows me to function, I finally have a bit of time to read and write and be, at first it’s like being peeled open, and everything I’ve had no time to feel or think about always threatens to overwhelm me.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Conclusion: "Landscape as Activity in The End of America poems"

"Landscape as Activity in The End of America poems"

Part Three

(Part One can be found here.)

I’ve always been interested in altering the relation between form and content in specific poems or groups of poems, and The End of America is no exception. There’s no one formal structure, or content, or relation between structure and content, that can be said to be ultimately, or even most, realist, if by “realist” one means an attempt to describe life as it is lived and experienced. Literary description can never simply show readers the real; it always reshapes it, leaving some things out and highlighting others, exaggerating and understating, tweaking for effect. Literature inevitably intervenes in the world; it reshapes it and so changes it, always.

This fact leads some writers to give up entirely on description, to consider it irrelevant, or to treat it as no more than literary, a created language with no definite relation to anything beyond language, certainly not life as it is lived and experienced. But those seem two extremes: to say either that literature can give an accurate depiction of life or can give no depiction of it at all. Instead, life and literature might share a pattern similar to that of character and environment, a series of mutual interactions that converge and diverge in different ways at different times.

In the various books of The End of America, I conceive of the person as an activity. Thoughts and feelings (whatever distinctions there may or may not be between them) are as much part of that activity as more physically visible ones. In the poems, the social geographic environment is also an activity, one of multiple voices and landscapes, of money and politics and hands gripping fences. Landscape is inevitably not stable; it changes. The person is the focal point for a processing of social geographic stimuli, acted upon by that stimuli and acting upon it, although the limits of the person’s ability to act upon it become part of the process, and a struggle. The person doesn’t always process the noise and reshape it into a clearly articulated response. That can happen sometimes, but clearly articulated responses are hardly the only way that persons process environments. Ultimately the process is less one of final answers than of motion itself, person and environment acting and re-acting. Hardly symbiosis or an easy relation, but one that involves uncertainty and anguish and that’s destructive as well as constructive.

Despite all the poetics I might use to talk about various aspects of the approach, there’s an element of barely filtered survival instinct in The End of America. Here’s what’s happening, here’s what I’m seeing and hearing, and now how am I going to live with it, to make something of it in a way that will help me be part of it? The end of it all, or the making of the end of it, can’t be the goal, since the wearing out of any person is inevitable. It’s the making something of it now, in a succession of nows, that is the most any person or poem can do.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Literary Aphorisms and Short Comments 2011

Here’s a collection of literary aphorisms and short snippets of thought that I wrote in 2011. From the most part, I’ve separated them out from my quick comments on cultural, historical, and political issues more broadly, and also from lines that are just primarily quotations. I may put lists of those up later if I find time.

Agree, disagree, or ignore as you will. I’m just glad to know I was thinking, at times, about things other than how to make it through the work day.


Avant literary resistance to bourgeois U.S. aesthetic and cultural norms is what makes avant work seem opaque or “elitist,” since fundamental to upholders of bourgeois norms is an inability to recognize, much less respect, anything that does not resemble them, even when the people doing those opaque other things are also bourgeois.

How many categorizing terms does it take before your poetry can no longer be recognized, even in current critical discussions? I’m thinking three.

Which other books, besides The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, have gone from being considered high school “readable” books to books needing a complex critical/historical approach to understand?

I once taught a version of Walt Whitman’s 1855 Leaves of Grass that had (unexpectedly for me) neutered all the gendered pronouns.

One of the best insights into writing fiction that I’ve ever received: take the people and situations you have known, and make them worse.

The only thing as unsurprising as a writer going to AWP is a writer acting superior about not going to AWP.

The people who want to go to AWP and be too cool for it simultaneously now do it this way; "Yes, I'm going to AWP, but not to attend any of the panels."

I want to believe that writers moving higher up into the echelons of the MFA world don’t necessarily have to embrace greater and greater dullness in the writing of others, but I struggle sometimes to find many counterexamples.

I don’t follow many standard English guidelines about the comma. I don’t use them for clauses and meaning always as much as I use them for pacing.

Guess I’ll never be called a New Fad now.

Radical poetry’s now going high speed into an era split between randomized aesthetic wordplay and painstaking factual documentation.

Hearing about what poets in MFA programs are reading often makes me want to insist on a more hardcore avant garde line than I might otherwise. Oh, bad history and creeping middle-of-the-road blandness masquerading as the exciting edge.

Because my students have often been confused by literature, they frequently assert that they wrote something confused in order to confuse readers because that’s what (most of) literature does. This issue comes up in every single introductory creative writing class I teach.

I’m not sure there’s any line about literature I quote more often than Gertrude Stein’s “There is no repetition, only insistence.”

A creative writing workshop is most effective when people in the workshop share some sets of principles about what makes a good piece of writing–something which makes very clear the problems of the workshop model.

Look at any word too closely, and language turns to mush.

A word is always in conversation with other words.

Has any writer (including writers of science fiction) ever idealized and glorified machines as thoroughly as Marinetti?

What would have happened if Aimé Césaire’s Notebook On A Return To The Native Land had become the central text of the Modernist poetry canon, instead of The Waste Land?

One thing that a university literary education apparently teaches you: writing a poem, story or novel is the easy part.

Fascinating to remember that for some people, every book gets called a “novel.”

Sign of bad literature #1: Dullness.

Sign of bad literature #2: Lack of energy.

Sign of bad literature #3: Lack of risk.

Sign of bad literature #4: Conventional view of the world.

I’m maybe not that interested in literature that tries to depict the values people should live by.

Of course it’s easier to write effective dystopias than effective utopias. What’s maybe more surprising is that dystopias are so much more enjoyable to read.

It doesn’t matter what your subject matter is. It matters what you do with your subject matter.

Trick endings and forced rhymes are more or less the same problem: the power of mass information.

The Author may not be coming to save us.

With my students, I usually need to get them interested in what literature cares about before I can get them to care about literature.

The Modernists were often genuinely weirdo outsiders. These days, it’s mostly just a bunch of ordinary people using Modernist techniques.

I’m with Thomas Pynchon on the greatness of Oakley Hall’s Warlock (1958). Maybe the most significant novel there is about the (old) American West, and the desire there for (and absence of) anything resembling justice.

I’m not a fan of the Beating A Dead Horse School of Poetics, but sometimes you have to beat a dead horse because if you don’t, people start thinking it’s alive. With apologies for the metaphor...

Writing a theory about why your poems are fascinating is not the same as writing poems that are fascinating.

Poetry and poetics as community garden: a metaphor I just don’t believe in.

As much as Joshua Clover’s overly abstract idea of totality annoys me (which is every time I think of it), I still prefer it to the idea of a political poetics as community garden. The problem is always larger than local specificity can make sense of.

Dear Poetry: I want someone to say something weird, flabbergasting, impossible, or non-existent. Anything but helpful.

Poems that just want to be helpful: ugh.

I’m not a poetry fetishist.

I don’t believe in literature or love, although at times I practice them.

Few misconceptions about fiction annoyed John Cheever more than the idea that fiction was really just non-fiction, memoir in flimsy disguise, and I’ve always felt the same way.

The idea that literature should be uplifting comes out of the idea that somehow it should shield and save us from our lives. Much more interesting to me is literature that makes us recognize our lives and the lives of others.

The trouble lies in what the story doesn’t know.

Love literature but don’t idealize it.

The pervasive sexism of a lot of the male radical New American poetry and fiction of the sixties gets wearing and seems very dated.

Poetry doesn’t have a Zeitgeist.

Writing poetry anonymously or under another name turns out to be an excellent way of making a name for oneself.

Isn’t some of the most fascinating poetry from any culture work which may not translate well? I'm always intrigued by poetry that doesn't speak at all to my own cultural condition. Makes the world a much bigger place than my narrow dreams sometimes imagine it to be.

It’s not only acceptable for a writer to be frustrated by the state of literature, it’s also often essential.

The work was slightly avant, somewhat, in a non-threatening, non-risky way that left few traces.

I liked Joe Wenderoth’s Letters to Wendy well enough, but the growing genre of lyric poetry about being bored and angst-ridden in the suburbs easily gets boring. Travis Nichols’ Iowa, despite many well written lines, would benefit from more terror, frustration, anguish or harsh alienation.

If you doubt the cultural value of literature, move from a place that has frequent public literary events to one that doesn’t.

"The Fall of the House of Usher" as American allegory about the significance of real estate.

Consolation? These people occasionally writing articles asserting that contemporary poetry is no good almost certainly aren’t writing good poems themselves, since clearly they haven’t learned to pay sufficient attention to words.

I’m not a fan of the use of italics in poetry to indicate the intensity or sensitivity or importance of a line. If the words don’t carry that weight already, the italics will only highlight that, and if the words do carry the weight, the italics aren’t necessary.

The most frightening work of literature I’ve ever read, unquestionably: Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

Few things ensure the publication of mediocre, middle-of-the-road books of poetry as effectively as a rigorous, professionally scrupulous academic peer-review publication process.

It’s not clear that literature and theory have ever “gone past” anything, but it may well be that they have yet to comprehend most things. And rejecting what you don’t yet comprehend is to invite the return of the repressed.

Writers whose whole context for literature is the university always depress me.

It had only minor dissonance against its own certainty of its own good intentions.

So far, with one notable exception to my knowledge, at the &Now Literary Festival the No Futurists, and the Queer and Aberrant and other Political Futurists, have kept mainly to their own panels.

Going to one literary reading and assuming all readings are exactly like that is not that different from going to one live music show and assuming all music is like that.

Much of the most gripping art of any kind has a uniquely vivid personality that’s in the work itself, even if that work features a critique of individuality and the privileges of the subjective author/creator, as long as we understand that the work itself is a translation of various material processes into another kind of material process. That is, not essence, but condition.

As amazing as his work can be, I don’t think that the John Ashbery influence has really served poetry in the U.S. all that well.

Whenever I look back at poems I’ve written, there seems no clear correlation between my feelings during that time period and the mood of the poems. Some of my most brutal pieces have been written during eras when I was enjoying myself, and some of the most optimistic during eras when I felt desperate.

I agree with scholars when they say “critical writing” is also “creative,” but I’ve never heard one say that “creative writing” is also “critical.”

I’ve never wanted to be the kind of writer who dislikes any aesthetic that doesn’t resemble my own. In fact, crucial to my aesthetics may be an attempt to challenge, even violate, whatever aesthetic principles I might convince myself I have.

My reaction to a recent book of poems: “I’m sorry that your potential girlfriends find you annoying and so act skittish.”

All these writers always declaring that something is dead have to be right every now and then.

Literature when I’m angry about its social condition: words written in a specific cultural pattern for the pleasure of a few friends and rare professional advancement opportunities. Makes you look cultured in the eyes of the non-literary, although it’s essential, when among the tribe, to admit a constant sense of defeat, humiliation and rage. Best used by those seeking spiritual rewards or who simply can’t help it.