Sunday, June 25, 2006

From Between Life and Death
Nathalie Sarraute

“He shakes his head, puckers his lids, his lips… ‘No, positively no, that won’t do.’ He stretches out his arm, bends it again… ‘I tear out the page.’ He clenches his fist, then his arm drops, his hand relaxes… ‘I throw it away. I take another sheet. I write. On the typewriter. Always. I never write by hand. I reread…’ His head moves from side to side. His lips are pouting… ‘No, no and again no. I tear it out. I crumple it. I throw it away. And so, three, four, ten times I start over…’ He puckers his lips, frowns, stretches his arm, bends it again, lets it drop, clenches his fist.”

Friday, June 23, 2006

Eleni [Sikelianos] and I often discuss the difference between the review culture (such as it is) for poetry and the one that exists around fiction. Basically, in part because books of poetry are often reviewed by friends, former students, etc., of the author, in part because many venues aren't keen on running negative reviews/only run very brief reviews, they often, when they get them, get flat-out raves. If one is lucky there is some analysis included, but it's all aimed at letting us know about how brilliant the thing and its author are. Fiction doesn't tend to work that way. It is certainly the case that the RCF won't run negative reviews, but man the majority of places are delighted to -- so much so that to bring out a book of fiction is to lean forward, chin first, and say, dude, slug me. One gets calloused, for sure, but some of the stuff that gets said is really something. Esp. if you write weird quiet work and your book has been farmed out, say, to the gal who regularly writes fantasy football coverage, or you write weird loud work and your book has been tossed into the lap of the I only really like quiet lyric novels guy. Not much more to say about it -- except to confess that when it's my turn (as it already is, even months ahead of the release of The Exquisite), I've come to strangely appreciate those punchings up that I do sometimes get treated to.
The first volume of Encyclopedia (A-E), edited by Tisa Bryant, Miranda Mellis and Kate Schatz, is out. Pay a visit to to see what it's about. One thing it's about is it's gorgeous -- hardback, color illustrations, handsomely printed...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Reading the section of the latest N+1 devoted to the state of writing in America today, I found myself, once again, encountering the same constellation of names (Eggers, Wallace, Moore, Oates, Updike, Krauss, Foer, Franzen, Roth and several others), that one is obliged to have to consider whenever reading someone's appraisal of what matters in contemporary fiction (if we open it up to Canada and the UK then you've got to, of course, have Munro, Z. Smith, etc.). Fine, you say, the discussion is clearly about mainstream fiction, and those (plus those several others) are the names that must be checked or alluded to if one is to make some dreary fucking point about how it's all going. And I say, surely, even in the mainstream, there are some others... no?

This happens, of course, when one discusses slant fiction too -- it's just that one doesn't, all that much (though there are some exceptions, like Now What), and certainly not much at all in large, wide-circulation fora.

Not such a big deal, really, but it is tedious, after a time. Reading the articles, which were generally pretty interesting, and made some useful points, I kept being reminded of a journalist talking about running around LA with Sesshu Foster (Atomik Aztek), who asked, rhetorically, as they whizzed past the dreadful, even horrible banality of some section of LA, "Is this all there is???"

Sunday, June 18, 2006

If you are in the area, Naropa University's Summer Writing Program ( is about to kick off 4 weeks of fine stuff...

I will be chairing a panel, week 2, with the terrific Rebecca Brown and the fabulous Thalia Field, on those strange and wonderful works (like theirs) where prose and poetry colllide.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

In loading box after box of poetry volumes today one thing struck my bleary mind -- the endless shapes and sizes of them. From the huge Blake facsimiles and the Annotated Howl and Maximus to the tiny edition of Stein's The World is Round. No such revelation when loading up the fiction. It's all about the same size. Somehow or other I found this depressing. Then I remembered Robert Majzel's Apikoros Sleuth, a skinny, oversized wonder of a thing -- the Kabbalah meets The Maltese Falcon meets Derrida. Can anyone think of any odd size, odd works of fiction. This isn't just whimsy -- I'm troubled by/interested in the code of uniformity that seems to predominate in even slant fiction production values.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

If Not Night It Will be Evening

Having cleared my desk of one major concern -- by sending off/reluctantly letting go of the proofs of The Exquisite, which will come back all grown up as a book later this summer -- I find myself groping around for something else to fill whatever gap has been created by seeing one of the main projects of the past 7 years sent off to be bound. I opened up one of the other longer projects I've been cooking for a while, and read 10 or so pages, and wasn't unhappy (because there was a good deal of work that needed to be done and that I saw could be done), but I kept sending my eyes over to the little notebook I took with me to Barcelona where a brand new project had a few words thrown its way. The idea -- and who knows if it will ever go anywhere beyond those few words -- was prompted by the realization (surely re-realization) that The Impossibly, which revels in, among other things, twisty ways to say straightforward things, was simply a translation of all the twisty, bulging and straight spaces that your average old city has on offer. Wrought iron bulging off of 500 year old stone + someone's laundry + someone speaking into a cell phone + a feeling of deep and valued (if misunderstood) history being examples of the kinds of bulges and twists one encounters constantly as one navigates snaky alleyways with bits of ancient fortification jutting out of them and so forth. So we'll see. Likely, I'll just keep knocking out short things for a while. And hefting boxes. But also, now and again, looking at the notebook.
"To you the bold venturers and adventurers, and whoever has embarked with cunning sails upon dreadful seas,
to you who are intoxicated with riddles, who take pleasure in twilight, whose soul is lured with flutes to every treacherous abyss --
for you do not desire to feel for a rope with cowardly hand; and where you can guess you hate to calculate..."

Nietzsche (Why Am I So Wise)

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The following is by Rob White:


Last night I dreamt of a man who became the wreck of another man. But not really. One of those extraordinary moments needs to occur. Yes. He still sleeps. Part of his bed is still warm. I don’t know his dreams. The night for him has probably barely been a night. The rain has stopped. Both these men would end up standing before the afterworld (I think this was suppose to be part of the dream) thinking of a world to ensure their passage. I like the word afterworld. Immediately I’m pulled down upon hearing the word. Afterworld. So much says that it comes from underground. Journeys have been made to this place. I nearly wake with his own dreams, I think, at times, carrying some disturbance from another world. The anotherworld. I am distressed and it is his doing. Look at him sleep. It is dark over there and I can’t see his body. Rain. It rained most of the night. The earth is too dry to hold this rain. Do I escape? Run for the finish of my dream. We had to say the right word so we wouldn’t get stuck outside the afterworld. I’m so afraid. Not really. He must have put it on my lips. Oops. There. That was for him. And there he goes, walking away.

Friday, June 09, 2006

A kick-ass interview (at Econo Culture, by Davis Schneiderman) with a kick-ass writer, thinker, and powerful force for sanity in the world of writing (Lance Olsen) is here.

A taste -- my language in the brackets:

"While I wouldn’t want to suggest said [big, fat New York] houses aren’t bringing out some terrific and surprising work (think José Saramago, David Mitchell, David Markson), I do want to suggest they are bringing out less of it than they did, say, forty years ago. Nor would I want to suggest that indie presses don’t bring out some horribly mundane, simple, sloppy stuff in innovationists’ clothing. Still, in our current sociohistorical reality (and I use the term loosely), indie presses by and large remain sites of aesthetic, political, and philosophical resistance. They remind us that our fiction, and hence our world, can always be other than it is."

Thursday, June 08, 2006

"...characters are just words, and the words can be changed"

Matt Cheney (in an interview on Meme Therapy)

Monday, June 05, 2006

In my spare moments I'm writing short prose shots inspired by the visual artist Rich O'Russa. The most recent one is about a dying professor of languages, plates of sausage and cucumber and fish rising to the surface of the water to be fed. Thing is I'm having trouble finishing it and want to try something. So: I'm looking for three words to serve as irritants to help me finish the piece out. The only stipulation is that they not be proper names (like Scrabble!). Please either leave a word, just a word, in the comments section or write me with it at

If the words get me there -- I'll post the finish piece here.
An article in this mornings Times discusses digital publishing and web tie-ins to print novels. Mark Z. Danielewski's new work (see the eyeball note below), which apparently features a kind of Wikipediaesque reader comment aspect, gets special mention:

When Mark Z. Danielewski's second novel, "Only Revolutions," is published in September, it will include hundreds of margin notes listing moments in history suggested online by fans of his work.

I have long been in favor of things digital when it comes to publishing. Sure, I still have trouble reading longer things on my computer (and it was hilarious to try to read Waiting for Godot on my Palm Pilot -- though very cool to know it was there), but the technology is almost there (e-ink is coming) and once the platforms are more solidly in place, search engines will help redefine (in practice, not just in theory) what "books" are (are they, as some of us tend to think anyway, mega-conglomerates of all the books we've read or all the books, read or unread, we have on our shelves? or are they those discrete units? or something in between?).

There is, of course, a great deal of overlap in concern here with the transformation occurring in the music industry -- authors and publishers worried that the miniscule amounts of money they tend to make will be made even smaller by digital sampling (the google snippets one can have already). Maybe it's just because I don't make any money on my work, but this part of it doesn't bother me too much. No doubt though when the first indie publisher goes under because of some digital assault or other, I will change my mind on this. But until then, it's fascinating, not frightening times...

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The arrival of page proofs for The Exquisite has conspired with moving business, paper grading, and drafting 22 questions for graduate student comprehensive exams means my posting may be a bit sparse for a while. The page proofs part of the obligations is the notable one. This is the last chance I have to look at the book and slip in any final minor changes. This is the round where things like "Would you like to look at my car..." Instead of "Would you like to look at my scar..." can be caught before the book is sent to the printer. There is some anxiety involved, of course, because despite the best intentions of everyone involved, the manuscript tends to grow weird moments like that at every round. A lot of that has to do with my lousy handwriting. Other instances are those so-called "acts of god", where weird stuff just happens. The main anxiety though is whether or not the book is really meant to be heading off into print. I mean, we fool ourselves about a lot of things...

Thursday, June 01, 2006

This afternoon, on the way into school, I made a detour into downtown Denver, to the "Lodo" Tattered Cover bookstore, because I just couldn't stand to wait a second longer to own the new Last Evenings on Earth by Roberto Bolaño (trans. Chris Andrews), which was reviewed in Bookforum (Koestenbaum gives Bolaño Saramago and Sebald status). I had to go to Denver for the book because it wasn't to be found in Boulder (at least not by me), which depresses me. We are supposed to have a decent indie store here, but too often it doesn't have the goods. At any rate, making a special, slightly irresponsible (life's crazy with moving, etc., at the moment) dash after a book I was dying to have has left me feeling very happy.

I'll have some things to say about Bolaño, and this one in particular, before long.