Thursday, July 13, 2017

159. from the Paris binder } Dec. '98

[ 1. Paris binder front cover ]

[ 2. Paris binder At the Musee d'Orsay poem ]

[ 3. Paris binder cross-outs ]

[ 4. Paris binder opium perfume ]

Friday, July 7, 2017

158. Ghosts & } trifles.

“Worse than myself” is a phrase taken from “The Uncommon Prayer-Book,” a story by M. R. James. At The Smart Set, I wrote about Oxford World’s Classics’ latest reprint of James’ Collected Ghost Stories. Also discussed: The Ring, Kate Bush, H. P. Lovecraft, and It Follows. At least have a look at Shannon Sands’ charming illustrations. (See her illustration for “Casting the Runes” above.)

For SHARKPACK, a response to the poem “Traveler’s Monologue” by Cassie Pruyn—“a horse with a second mouth. Mouth and mouth inside its mouth. Duplicitous.”

Rose Metal Press authors were invited to contribute to the Song of the Week series at Coldfront. I wrote about “Nunu” by Mira Calix. Poets off poetry, it saysnot so!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

157. Skin Tips } nos. 3, 4, 5 & 6.

[ Skin Tips no. 3 ]

[ Skin Tips no. 4 ]

[ Skin Tips no. 5 ]

[ Skin Tips no. 6 ]

Thursday, June 1, 2017

156. Mookie & Pookie & } the White Hands.

Yesterday I received an email from Erin Laine. The full text of it—“Now you’re in a wilderness, Pookie.”—I replied, wrote, simply, “Erin?” As you know my last contact with her was in 2014, at a coffee shop where I prepared notes for a lecture on Mark Samuels short story “Colony.” What she said to me then was cryptic. I sensed she was distressed, and I subsequently made fruitless efforts to contact her. Inexplicably, my reply was sent to my phone as a text, though garbled; it read: “Exin?”

Pookie, by the way, is not a nickname anyone called me except Erin. When she first called me Pookie, while we waited to get into our MIT weekend courses (mine was “Homer’s Odyssey”; hers was a computer programming course), I thought she was teasing me—you know, Sally calling Linus her “Sweet Babboo.” When I said so she said, “No, dummy” and explained to me about a television show she saw called “Mookie and Pookie.” Go ahead and Google. If I’m Pookie I’m Justine Bateman.

None of this adds up to anything but it did remind me that I published excerpts from the lecture notes I wrote about the Mark Samuels collection The White Hands and Other Weird Tales (Tartarus Press, 2012). The notes appear in Supernatural Tales 34. What follows is from the first lecture and does not appear in ST:
Students, As I prepare these lecture notes, and in addition to the Samuels, we find upon my desk a thermos of coffee laced with rum, this notebook, and a blue, paper packet that contains a single human tooth. [...] Alfred Muswell calls for a literature opposed to realism. His model is the stories of Lilith Blake. We’re told Blake is best known for her collection The Reunion and Others, but best known to us is The White Hands and Other Tales. [...] We may as well note here that the title The White Hands and Other Tales is very similar to the title of the Samuels book we hold in our own hands, The White Hands and Other Weird Tales. Similar, but not the same. Will the Samuels effect us as the Blake did Muswell?

Now I'm in a wilderness. If anyone hears from Erin, please let me know.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

155. Author of } museums.

Yesterday, in the Chicago Tribune: “American Writers Museum sneak peek: far-reaching, dramatic”; and in The New York Times: “An Everyman Museum to Celebrate American Writers”—the museum is the American Writers Museum. It opens next week. More from the Times
…Mr. [Malcolm] O’Hagan incorporated a nonprofit dedicated to the project. He soon hired Mr. Anway, founder of the Boston-based firm Amaze Design, who organized brainstorming sessions with writers, publishers, scholars, teachers and booksellers in various cities.
I’m one of the “writers, publishers, scholars” hired by Mr. Anway. I wrote thirty-four author stories, twenty-five for the “85-foot long interactive wall [that] highlights 100 notable writers…” and nine for the Chicago authors room. The Times quoted from one of my texts, about Vladimir Nabokov: 
Those who skip Ms. [Maureen] Corrigan’s video commentary on literary experimentalism, for example, may not realize that “Lolita” is more than a novel that “hinges on a road trip — a classic American genre — and riffs on motel and teen culture,” as the brief wall text dedicated to Vladimir Nabokov puts it.
Note the use of dashes—a mark of my prose, for sure.

It was a challenge to write lives of famous authors in 100 – 190 words. What do you choose to say about Melville? About Hemingway? About Cather? I was meanly grateful Flannery O’Conner died when she was 39. Some of my favorites to write were the (slightly) lesser-knowns. Here's my bio for Margaret Wise Brown:
Is “In the great green room,” as famous a first line as “Call me Ishmael”? Quite possibly. Margaret Wise Brown wrote dozens of children's books, including The Runaway Bunny (1942) and Goodnight Moon (1946). Brown’s stories are about the everyday life of children (often represented by animals), written in a subtle—but instantly recognizable—verse that lends itself to being read aloud. Brown’s whimsy extended to the home she refurbished for herself on an island off the coast of Maine; she called it “The Only House,” though it was not.
Though it was not. Though it was not! Put that on my placard when you add me to your museum.

[The Times piece included photographs of the museum taken by Whitten Sabbatini; pictured above is the 85-foot long interactive wall where much of my work appears.]

Friday, May 5, 2017

154. Of our studies } impossible to speak.

W. Scott Poole speculates in his book about H.P. Lovecraft In The Mountains of Madness (sent to me by the publisher, Soft Skull Press) that “the classic stories ‘The Call of Cthulu,’ ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth,’ ‘The Haunter of the Dark,’ and ‘The Colour Out of Space’… will not be the horrific things baristas and bartenders of the next generation… will want to talk about with middle-aged patrons pondering over Lovecraft books….” He proposes that “more readers will begin to discover the haunting vision quests [Lovecraft] wrote between 1918 and 1923.”

After Poole identifies the “haunting vision quests” he means (“Celephais,” “Polaris,” “The Quest of Iranon,” “The Doom that Came to Sarnath” “The Nameless City,” and “Hypnos”), he writes, “I wonder, and worry, that ‘Hypnos’ might even become a standard college reading for the hip classroom.”

Why worry? He explains:

If this occurs, maybe the idea of “Hypnos” being on a college syllabus will acquire the same outré patina as reading Naked Lunch in the 1970s, or seem as exciting as Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” in the 1990s. Maybe its reputation will say to future college students what it says to them today when they read a David Foster Wallace essay or check out one of Chuck Klosterman’s more incisive and less opaque essays. An adult who “gets you” has given you this VERY RELEVANT work that will change your life and open the gates of perception. 
I say I worry as well as wonder about this because canonizing means domesticating and containing the power of such texts and their histories.

Oh my. Where to begin? Poole is a college professor (see his faculty page here). As a professor, he can’t really believe that canonization = domestication. If he does, he’s failed to understand that there’s a difference between the belief that you know a work and actually knowing a work. A work may seem domesticated because it’s well-known, but when readers cast aside what they think they know and pay attention, that perception dies.

A student might assume a canonized work is by definition stale. That’s why you put a professor in the room—because the professor knows otherwise.

Canonization does nothing to the power of a great text.

And to what canon does Poole refer? The imaginary canon that includes Burroughs, Gilman, Wallace, and Klosterman? Maybe he means a more conventional canon? Say, the Norton Anthology of American Literature? Is there a poem or an essay or a novel in the Norton Anthology of American Literature that’s domesticated and contained? And if you think so, ask yourself: when did you last pay attention to that work?

Poole adds (specifically regarding “Hypnos”), “It’s a tale that deserves something better than such a fate. Hopefully, to quote Stephen King writing about Lovecraft, ‘the chickenshit academics’ won’t get their tenured mitts on this one.” It’s easy to understand why King might bear animus toward academics, but why does Poole? He is an academic. To what end does Poole perpetuate trite clichés about intellectually timid professors? Is this a manifestation of self-hatred?

What kind of professor hopes a text stays out of the classroom?

Monday, April 24, 2017

153. What’s about } totally wrong?

David Shields invited me to watch I Think You’re Totally Wrong (2017*), directed by James Franco. It’s an adaptation of an argument between David Shields and Caleb Powell. Its subject, ostensibly, is a life dedicated to art (Shields’) vs. a life dedicated to living (Powell’s). That’s a dumb argument, and it’s quickly apparent Shields and Powell aren’t really arguing art vs. life, but success vs. failure and who is a better man. James Franco’s appearance in the film radically distorts those arguments—Shields and Powell and their discussions are utterly dwarfed by Franco’s larger-than-life presence.

After I watched the film, I sent Shields my comments; I asked if it was okay to post said comments. He said he’d be “honored.” What follows is a selection from my comments.

Why “white guys bullshit”? Are there no books and films in which two black guys bullshit? Two Pakistani women? Is it difficult to recognize when people from a culture not your own are bullshitting? Why “bullshit?" and not dialogue? Dialogue can't be too rarefied if what follows “white guys bullshit” is “Apollonian and Dionysian.”

David explains why Caleb. Caleb does not explain himself. David wants to be questioned; Caleb want to have a good time (according to David).

[Un-focus my eyes and see thru Caleb.]

Conversation about homosexuality—Caleb's—“you trying to Mark me?” Caleb’s wife's privacy.

Broken leg. Coma. How do you avoid the tendency to always have a reply anecdote? To one-up? 

David: "Here's are chance to reanimate both your art and my life." [Is this line scripted? Rehearsed? Previously articulated?]

Caleb has four-wheel drive, snow chains, he helped build the deck, he did some roofing. Blue collar work. David lights a fire in the fireplace. “I'm Bertrand Russell who couldn't even start—who couldn't even boil water.” Caleb doubts this anecdote. Good on Caleb--how could you not? Russell's teapot. Caleb suggests maybe Russell didn't boil water. More plausible, but still not likely. The kind of anecdote artists perpetuate about other artists and themselves. What does that anecdote admire?

Knight to Death: “You play chess, don't you?” (The Seventh Seal, 1957.)

Caleb: “You can't just play to play.” According to David, Caleb's work lacks an “x-factor.” “It's not making any meaning.” “Your work stands next to the world.” Chess = a game, a competition, intellectualism. Caleb drinks beer, David, water.

David and Caleb do not look alike, tho it would be easy to reduce them to two bald, white middle-aged men. Collapse the split screen.

How does a non-artist relate to this film? Is this film for the “10,000 people who have MFAs”? “I want everyone...,” Caleb says. 10,000 people? That would be a fucking amazing crowd. How many audiences of two have I traveled three hundred miles for? About 10,000.

Why is it making the world better vs. art? Is the only way to make the world better to directly engage with some kind of politics? Another false dichotomy: the “real world” vs. the academic world. Is David strictly an academic, or is he an academic and a practicing artist? The real world = changing tires.

David: “ gotta start with the chaos of life whereas in a way I always want to start with the cathedral of art.” [Scripted? Rehearsed? Previously articulated?]

Genius. Get to the bottom of talent. A work of amazing power vs. a work that helps everyone. A real dilemma. A work of amazing power might help people. How does art help? (Let's ignore art therapy, etc.) Let's put dresser drawers in a bust of Venus.


Caleb has never earned more than $20,000 in a year. David earns approximately $170,000 a year. What does James Franco earn per year? How much is changing a tire worth?

Caleb twice has had sexual encounters with men he thought were women. Is this humiliating? Might it make his wife nervous? Does it ultimately seem as trivial as having never changed a tire? Is a bad stutter or is feeling like a “walking dead man” or “you have a high-pitched voice” less of a cross to bear than a blowjob from a transexual? Is this about manhood? James challenges David: “...if you don't have any material to man-up....”

What James is interested in is being an artist. And being an artist, for James, is taking risk. He uses the word “stake"—as in, what's at stake. A very writers' workshop term. [In the voice of my least favorite professor: But, Adam, what exactly is at stake here?]

I like James' presence is this film a lot. It's so bizarre. He walks among us.

Expression in this film. When Caleb describes Waltz with Bashir, he becomes visibly upset. David, in response to this, sits up—he knows it's no longer appropriate to lay sprawled on the couch. David is a performer—he's a professor! Caleb appears not to perform. Caleb becomes emotional when describing a work of art, not when discussing his family, or being overseas—i.e., his life.

That art causes Caleb to choke up is the big twist David suggests a film needs.

It goes without saying that James is an actor too. James also writes fiction—David sees fiction as a “veil.” “The moment it was fiction, it was dead. The Moment it was nonfiction, our nerves jangled.” Maybe fiction creates a space between author and material so author can breathe, but the author is always held accountable. 

Caleb “confesses” he took photos of David asleep. Did he? James' shadow follows Caleb and David to the car.

[ *IMDb states that the films release date is 2014. I asked David about this; David asked Oliver Ike, president & founder of First Pond Entertainment, if that date could be changed. Ike wrote, “The year listing cannot be changed. They go by production year.” Why would IMDb do that? Obviously the date we want is the release date. ]