Thursday, May 5, 2016
Fear of Poetry (rough cut, 1982), featuring Dennis Cooper, Bob Flanagan, Jack Skelley, David Trinidad, Amy Gerstler, Ed Smith, Jocelyn Fischer, Debbie Patino, Raszebrae, Steven Hall.
In the early 1980s, there was this really vital scene of young poets, fiction writers, and artists of different kinds in Los Angeles. I was part of it along with a number of other young LA-based writers, some of whom went on to be well known and established literary figures. I happened to be the Director of Live Programming at the time for a literary foundation and performance space in Venice called Beyond Baroque. Because I had semi-control of that space and its facilities, it became kind of our writer gang's headquarters. We did readings there, held workshops, invited writers young and old that we really liked from NYC, San Francisco, and elsewhere to give readings, and used the foundation's typesetting equipment to make the literary zines that most of us were editing at the time. It was an exciting and super formative era for us.
In 1982, an aspiring filmmaker named Gail Kazinsky started coming to Beyond Baroque events. She was very interested by what was going on and asked us if she could make a documentary film about the writers and our scene. I guess we said yes, and she spent a few weeks filming at Beyond Baroque and offsite as well. For whatever reason, she decided to focus on a small group of writers within our larger group. The chosen ones were me, poet Amy Gerstler, poet/artist/performer Bob Flanagan (RIP), artist/performer and Bob's partner Sheree Rose, poet Ed Smith (RIP), writer and musician Jack Skelley, and Jocelyn Fischer who was the Director of Beyond Baroque.
In the billing for the unfinished film that resulted, 'Fear of Poetry', poet David Trinidad is also listed as being in the film, but he doesn't seem to appear in the surviving footage. Strangely, the New York poet/musician Steven Hall is featured prominently in the film, I guess because he happened to be hanging out with us. So perhaps Gail mistakenly thought he was David Trinidad? Just to give a larger context for the film, some of the other members of our young local writer gang whom you might know but who didn't end up being included for unknown reasons include writer/artist Benjamin Weissman, NPR 'Bookworm' host Michael Silverblatt, novelist Jim Krusoe, poet Kim Rosenfield, and others.
Gail Kazinsky put together a rough cut of the film not long after she finished shooting and showed it to the participants and friends at a gallery in downtown LA. We gave her our feedback and then she was supposedly going to finish the film. Shortly thereafter, she moved away from Los Angeles, I think maybe to Chicago. After that, we never heard from her or had any news about the film again. We assumed she had abandoned the film and eventually assumed the footage was forever lost. But, very recently, some mysterious person uploaded the rough cut in multiple parts onto youtube. The quality, as you'll see, is quite poor. I don't know if that's because the footage the person used is a late generation copy or if the original footage has just aged and decayed very badly.
The writer and theorist Diarmuid Hester suggested to me the other week that it might be a good idea to showcase the rough cut of 'Fear of Poetry' here, and, as you see, I have done that today. I'm not sure how interesting the documentary will be for most or even any of you, especially in such an unfinished and visually challenging form. For me, and I'm sure for the other surviving writers who are featured, it documents a period in our lives as writers and people that wound up being extremely important to us. A year after this film was shot, I moved to NYC, followed shortly thereafter by Ed Smith and David Trinidad, and, because of those changes and others, the scene documented in the film ended and evolved into something else. That's the story. You can ask me for more details if you want. In the meantime, I respectfully foist this on you today.
p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Good morning, David. Thanks a lot for responding to the photos. ** Jamie McMorrow, Salut, Jamie! Yes, I saw your email last night! Thank you so, so much! Yesterday was a swamp for me, but I'll have some free time this afternoon, and I'll check out what you sent, and see if everything is clear, and I'll write back to you. Yeah, thanks a ton, that's very exciting! It was very, very cool to screen the film at Silencio. Being a Lynch-designed club, the theater there is, naturally, a top notch and great space. Wednesday was basically another day of non-stop work and meetings. There are a bunch of corrections we have to make, so the work load is heavier than we had hoped, but everything is due by Tuesday so at least I can look forward to some peace, I hope, right about then. Did you get to mess with your self-revealed song? So, it's down to detailing stuff now? Cool! Have a splendid day with enough time to do at least a little of what you really want to do. Love from here and me. ** Bernard Welt, Hi, B. I discovered the Donald B. page on FB yesterday. Wow, it's great! Who's doing that? There's a bunch of photos and stuff that I've seen before. Fantastic work on somebody's part. I will, of course, pass along and promo the book event, for sure. I reposted 'The Dark Side of Disneyland' here not very long ago, a few months. I'll make a new, 'welcome to the world' post, and I'll probably swipe some stuff from the FB page, and if you have anything to spare for the post, that would be great. Thanks so much! ** MANCY, Hi, Steven! I'm good but way overworked but good! Really excited for that new project you're hinting at on FB. If you want a birth post here to announce it or anything, I'd be only honored to do something. ** Tosh Berman, Hi, Tosh! Thank you! ** Bear, Hi, Bear! My week has been productive. Not much else, ha ha, but productive, yes, thank you. Thank you about the Keanu post. I think he's a pretty cool and good hearted guy, yes. That's great, great news about finding that space/venue! Congratulations, man! What a relief! Wonderful! How was the experimental dance piece that constituted your celebration? ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Oh, boy, yeah, I can not wait until this project is finished and sent off to the powers that be. My brain is almost empty and operating on fumes at this point. Yeah, Silencio really isn't weird. The cool things about it are subtle. Like there's a stage area where bands and djs play that's kind of a reference to the red room in 'Twin Peaks' with red curtains and stuff, but it's very non-offensive. I mean, it's a nice place, comfy, it's just not mind-blowing in any way. I hope your busy school day did whatever school can do for someone with your larger than life talents. Me, I'll be working non-stop yet again, but Zac and I do at least have a big meeting with the producer of our new film this morning where hopefully we'll find out how and when we can start actually working on it. Take care! ** Steevee, Hi. Very, very cool about the Terrence Davies interview! I'm the wrong person to give you advice about that question, but let's see if others have ideas. Everyone, Steevee would love some advice about something. If you have ideas, can you help him out? Thanks! Here he is: 'I'm interviewing Terence Davies next Tuesday. Can you think of a productive way to ask about his sense of "gay shame" and his statements in previous interviews like "I will go to my grave hating being gay?" His first three shorts already touched on how miserable being gay makes him. I'm tempted to ask him if he thinks he'd still feel the same way if he were 20 or 30 years younger.' Interesting about the new Eno. I admit I haven't been intrigued enough to buy recent records by him in a while, but you've sold me on getting that one. Cool. I hope you woke up feeling 'up' enough to get the busy stuff accomplished. ** _Black_Acrylic, Howdy, Ben! Thanks for the great response! ** Chilly Jay Chill, Hi, Jeff! Thank you again so much! And sorry about initially leaving out some of the photos. I must have been a little spacey when I assembled the post originally. Wow, 10 days. You should really get to know the place then. Nice. I'm way excited about the new 'Twin Peaks'. There hasn't been a shred of leaking info that hasn't made it seem very, very promising. Ozick: I tried reading her, a couple of books, back in the late 80s when it seemed like a lot of smart people were reading and recommending her, and, a the time at least, it didn't do very much for me, to be honest. Why, I don't know. If you read her, I would be curious to know if I should try her again. And thank you so much for the venue-related emails! That place looks really good to me, and I forwarded the mail onto Zac, and I'll be seeing him this morning. I'll see what he thinks, and then I'll write to you today. Really, thank you, Jeff! ** Armando, Hey, man! Really nice to see you! I'm in Paris. Wait, you're in LA! Wow, that's very cool. To check out? Hm, where are you staying? Amoeba Records, Museum of Jurassic Technology, MoCA or LACMA if there's anything good there, ... I'll have to think. The house I grew up in? It's in this city/LA suburb in the San Gabriel Valley called Arcadia. The address is 995 Hampton Road. I'm co-writing a possible TV series with Zac for Gisele Vienne to direct. It's about a ventriloquist and her puppet. We're getting the script and proposal ready to submit to the TV channel ARTE right now. Love and hugs right back to you! And have tons of LA fun! ** Bill, Hi, Bill. Yeah, Howard's end was very sad. It was rough. And, yes, incredible how much things have changed. Have a great one, B! ** Okay. So, like I said up above, there's an unfinished, in bad shape documentary about my and other young writers' formative days in LA, if you're interested and if you can bear the awful shape that the footage is in. See you tomorrow.
Posted by Dennis Cooper at 12:07 AM
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Daisuke Yokota is one of the most talked-about young Japanese photographers. He’s been praised for his meticulous approach to photographic experimentation, combined at times with visceral performances and his willingness to continuously test the limits of photography.
Born in 1983 in Saitama, north of Tokyo, Yokota is part of a generation of young artists using photography in subversive new ways. His approach combines multiple rephotographing and printing, and applying acid or flame to the end results. He is working out of, and pushing forward, a Japanese tradition of photobook-making and performance that harks back to the visceral experimentation of the Provoke generation and the work of the relentless photobook-maker Daido Moriyama.
His process is meticulous to the point of obsessive. He shoots on a compact digital camera, prints and rephotographs the results on medium-format film, then prints them again several times using heat and light to mark or distort the images. He stands out because his results tend transcend the sum of the parts. Or, to put it more brutally, his creative process does not appear more interesting than the results. The idea, execution, and final work are all of an equal and often mysterious intensity.
- Sean O’Hagan, The Guardian
Daisuke Yokota on the influence of Aphex Twin on his work:
“There’s a sense that you can’t really see him, and this confusion is interesting to me. Then, to speak about his music, there’s a lot of experimentation with delay, reverb, and echo, which is playing with the way you perceive time. Of course, there’s no time in a photograph, but I thought about how to apply this kind of effect, or filter, to photography.”
THEY and WATER SIDE series
p.s. Hey. Today Chilly Jay Chill aka the amazing writer/author Jeff Jackson shares the work of artist/photographer Daisuke Yokota with us. I don't know about you, obviously, but I didn't know this work before Jeff/CJC made the post, and it's a pretty great discovery. Pore over the selection today, please, and let Jeff know what happens to you when you do that. Thank you all, and extra-special thanks to you, Jeff. ** Jamie McMorrow, High powered good morning to you, Jamie. Great, thank you kindly, about the guest-post. I'm excited. Yes, hard work becomes my lot in life again today, but enough of my brain cells have healed that I think I can handle it. The deadline is that we now have to finish the TV series package. Gisele has three trusted people reading the scripts, and I suppose there'll be further revisions, and we have to write the introduction and schmooze texts that go with them. We have a meeting with the producer today, and I guess we'll know after that if we're near the finish line or not. Cool that you watched all the fireworks vids! The sky-ladder thing is insane, right? The guy who made that is a Chinese artist who primarily makes thing with fireworks, and this stuff is pretty mind-blowing in general. And the rest, yeah, agreed, thank you. I'm really happy that we share the fascination. The Silencio screening went really well. Great response and some excellent opportunities on the horizon because of it, which was why we did the event. Thanks, pal! Nail Wednesday, and I know you will. Love, me. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi, Dora! Cool. Yeah, Clarence Major is a really amazing writer but he's kind of weirdly overlooked these days, I don't know why. The work is progressing, yeah. I'll just be really glad when we can finally send the package off, I think this weekend or just after, and I won't have to think about it for six weeks. The Silencio thing was really good. I guess you know it's David Lynch's club. He designed the whole place, and I think owns it. It's cool, but it's not as wild and weird as I had imagined. It's very much a club for rich people, and it's very chic. Very nice, but not a place I can imagine hanging out or anything. And since the membership is super expensive, I don't think I will. What happened between morning and night for you today? ** David Ehrenstein, Hi, D. Yeah, I figured. Cool that you're big on Major. Thanks for the link to the Philip Hensher piece. I like his pieces, so I'm looking forward to it. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. It went well. It was essentially a press screening for journalists and industry folks, and the response was fantastic, and I think it'll lead to some good things, which was the point. Ah, okay, about the hopefully very short further delay. I'll watch that Leckey film as soon as I get some breathing room. Thank you, man. ** Chilly Jay Chill, Hi, Jeff. Great, great thanks for the post. Like I told you, his work is completely new to me, and I'm quite blown away. Yeah, Major doesn't get anywhere near the attention he should, and I feel that, with the rise in experimentation in US lit, he's an obvious forebearer and unique writer who logically should be lauded and read far more. Kind of strange. The screening went very well. Like I said above, it was for press, basically, and it was almost all journalists and some film festival/industry people. It's a very small theater, 28 seats plus some folding chairs for overflow. The q&a seemed good. Silencio, as I was saying to Dora, is nice but it's very oriented towards the rich and powerful. It's situated way underground, which is cool, and Lynch did the decor and furniture, which is kind of tastefully Lynch-like but awfully tasteful. It's cool, don't get me wrong, but my expectations that Lynch's association would make it strange in some interesting way were kind of dashed. Oh, thank you so much about the possible screening thing! You go to Berlin so soon! I'm hoping you got a ton of recommended things to do. I'm imagine you have. How long are you there? Is it just straight to Berlin and then back home? That's exciting! ** Misanthrope, It is a nice title, right? I don't know Key & Peele. I'm so out of it about States phenoms and stuff. ** Thomas Moronic, Hi, T. I finally had eyes enough to read your haikus, and they were divine, my friend. Major is kind of under the radar these days. He was much better known ten, twenty years ago. I can only imagine that the new job has thrown your schedule into chaos. I hope it's going well. Is it? I blabbed a bit about the screening and Silencio up above. It went really well. Take care, pal. ** Bill, Hi. The Ladies Party, yikes, yes, I really have to read that. Mr. Ewert! ** Okay. Enjoy Jeff's lustrous and far more post today, people. Thank you. See you tomorrow.
Posted by Dennis Cooper at 12:19 AM
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
'When My Amputations was published in 1986, it was heralded by writers and critics as a major literary achievement. Toni Morrison, Ntozake Shange, and Charles Johnson spoke of Clarence Major's mind and talent, his inventive use of language that drew together influences from black music, poetry, the blues, and painting. A reviewer for the New York Times wrote that My Amputations is “distinguished by a rich and imaginative prose poetry of evocative power.” Awarding it the 1986 Western States Book Award for Fiction, jurors Denise Levertov, Robert Haas, Jonathan Galassi, and Sandra Cisneros deemed the text “an explosively rich book about a man pursued by his shadow…. My Amputations is distinguished by the extraordinarily inventive rhythms of its language. A book full of laughter and rueful sadness and swift contempt, its deepest resonance is the hunger to be healed.” The critic Jerome Klinkowitz wrote that My Amputations is “living fiction, as close to a truly organic text as we are ever likely to see.”
'Since this extraordinary reception, the study of contemporary literature has evolved dramatically, providing contemporary critics and scholars with the language, vocabulary, and theoretical concepts to re-read My Amputations, not as an “experimental” text, but as a masterpiece of postmodern fiction, as a catalyst in a new historical and epistemological development in American literature. Reflexivity, fragmented authority, indeterminacy, play, uncertainty, difference, ambiguity, and open-endedness — these post-structural and postmodern concepts challenge many of the suppositions of modern thought and modern literature. As a consequence, traditional notions of realism seem inadequate. The proposition that the writer is the “creator” of something “original” has come under serious attack. The unquestioned assumption of the text's literariness — that is, that the text possesses certain qualities that place it above the matrices of historical conditions — has been undermined profoundly. By questioning so many naturalized conventions and assumptions about modern literature, My Amputations signifies new ways to think and live in the world. Most importantly, these advancements and developments allow critics to point out how this text radically re-describes African American subjectivity.
'In the 1970s and 1980s, as academics and critics struggled to come up with new uses for literature, Clarence Major had already embarked upon a literary mission to re-define the novel. Indeed, so many of the postmodern tendencies highlighted by literary theorists, and so abundantly present in My Amputations, had been evident in Major's work for years prior to that. In an interview early in his writing career, Major told John O'Brien: “the novel… takes on its own reality and is really independent of anything outside itself…. You begin with words and you end with words. The content exists in our minds. I don't think that it has to be a reflection of anything. It is a reality that has been created inside a book. It's put together and exists finally in your mind.” For Major, from All-Night Visitors (1969) to No (1973) to Reflex and Bone Structure (1975), to Emergency Exit (1979) and to My Amputations (1986), these texts do not reflect the social real; they are an addition to it, or are artistic objects in themselves to be admired for what they are. They have their own presence in the world, representing complex networks of ideas, images, and feeling. They refer only to themselves and to other texts. In the earlier novels All-Night Visitors and No, Major uses graphic sex to demonstrate that fiction is a linguistic invention. In later novels such as Reflex and Bone Structure, Emergency Exit, and My Amputations, Major uses personal fragmentation to explore anti-realism or the fiction-making process.
'From the beginning, this knowledge and awareness gave Major the freedom to use his imagination to create fiction that allows the reader to have an experience, rather than an ill-conceived reflection of life. Choosing not to model his fiction on “the linear and formal notion of realism traditionally practiced by Negro and Black American writers,” Major eschews linear plot, causal logic, progress, realistic character development, and resolution. He expands the novel to incorporate other forms of speech and images such as painting, jazz and blues improvisation, techniques of detective fiction, porn movies, and cubism, as he speaks to human dimensions and possibilities that have been repressed and/or excluded in realistic texts. But in using these different forms of representation, he disturbs and even subverts their dominance, causing them to exist in this inter-textual flux.
'In the 1970s, this must have been an arduous, difficult task for Major. He began writing his postmodern, anti-establishment fiction and achieving literary recognition in the aftermath of the turmoil of the 1960s. This was a time when individuals and artistic and literary communities drew clearly defined cultural and ideological lines. In many ways, he was marginalized. In not writing realistic fiction or catering to the New York literary establishment, he did not achieve the commercial successes of his contemporaries such as Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. Also, in the 1970s and 1980s, Major's brand of meta-fiction put him in direct opposition to black aesthetics and the racial uplift of African American critics, as well as in opposition to mainstream American literary critics who read African American literature in a reductive, stereotypical way. He readily responded, arguing that a black aesthetic view of literature was as stifling and repressive as a Eurocentric view. Both close down the writer and restrict him to the service of certain political ideologies. He was also accused of not writing about “real” black people, or dealing with race.
'But Major does deal with race. Rather than choose race as his theme and racial conflict as his subject matter, Major probes beyond the merely political to find the roots that link the African American experience to all human experiences. His characters are black, but race “is not the totality of their identity.” For Major, blacks have other human identities and dimensions. In taking this approach to African American subjectivity, he obviates the “tendency to stereotype the [black] Other” and instead represents blacks as complex and varied, with the experience of race being one aspect of that complex existence.
'Major's My Amputations is told by an omniscient narrator who shifts from third person to first person, moving in and out of the mind of the protagonist, Mason. The text has many modes: impressionistic, visual, and meta-fictional. Minimizing representational effects, it constructs the narrative in physical blocks of diverse materials, rather than in logical paragraphs. One of its techniques includes using language to build what Major calls “visual panels,” like Cubist pictures, which are complete within themselves. But within each block, which is filled with multiple and varied poetic imagery, the narrator constantly moves forward and backward in time.
'Another technique used in My Amputations is a jazz/blues mode of improvisation that offers different takes on key situations and events. When the narrator tells the story of Mason Ellis in a jazz/blues style, he repeats information always with variations. For example, the narrator tells us of Mason's childhood in Chicago. But when he recounts Mason's childhood a second time, he also tells us that Mason was born in red-dirt Georgia. In his jazz-influenced account of Painted Turtle, one of Mason's female friends, the narrator tells us of her relationship with Mason and how it ends. Later, he does a riff on the relationship, but this time he elaborates further, recounting how the two first met.
'This riffing on various themes and situations happens throughout the text. The narrator gives us several different versions of Mason's stay in the Air Force. He gives different riffs on the Chemical Bank robbery, without hierarchy or privilege. In giving us this play on the various events and situations in the text, the narrator, and thus Major, demonstrates that language cannot completely master a subject, that language cannot pin down meaning. It can only give us significations of the subject or the social real.' -- W. Lawrence Hogue
Clarence Major Website
Clarence Major Resource Page
Clarence Major @ The Poetry Foundation
Clarence Major @ afropoets
Book: 'The Art and Life of Clarence Major'
'Conversations with Clarence Major'
'Energy Made Visible: A Conversation With Clarence Major'
'Walt Whitman, Clarence Major, and Changing resholds of American Wonder'
'A Minoring of Major and Some Top Gunn'
'Postmodernism, Traditional Cultural Forms, and African American Narratives'
'To Define an Ultimate Dimness', by Nathaniel Mackey
'Six Orphans and Circuses: The Literary Experiments of Leon Forrest and Clarence Major'
'Against Commodification: Zuni Culture in Clarence Major's Native American Texts'
'"I follow my eyes": an interview with Clarence Major'
Buy 'My Amputations'
Swallow the Lake - Clarence Major
Your fiction and your poetry seems to be chronically referred to as “experimental”…
“Chronic” is a good word for it…
...and that seems to be juxtaposed to the term “conventional,” and these two terms keep cropping up. I’m interested in finding out what those terms mean to you, and why do you feel that “experimental” is used to describe your writing in general?
For me they’re troublesome—very troublesome—but I think it’s an effort on the part of people who need to define writing in terms of genres, in terms of categories, to do just that. It seems to be the convenient way of dealing with things that are in the marketplace. It’s “black” or “experimental” or “feminist” or “historical romance” or whatever. Basically we live in a culture that requires these definitions. It’s kind of a tag. I’ve agonized over tags, and I think there’s no way around them, so I don’t fight them anymore. Those are labels that are either useful or detracting at times, depending on where you are at the moment or where the customer is at the moment, or where the researched or book reviewer is at the moment.
What’s the connection to your writing? Why do you feel it’s termed “experimental”?
Because, I guess, as the reviewer said in yesterday’s L.A. Times, it’s because there is a tradition of Afro-American fiction and poetry, and that tradition has been—in fiction, especially—realistic, or naturalistic. “Social realism” is what it’s generally called. It means that Afro-American writers have traditionally made a sociological or psychological—and it’s usually both—examination of the so-called black experience, which is another term that has no meaning whatsoever.
There is no single black experience. There are certain kinds of cultural aspects of the experience of black people generally that might be summed up in that way, but it seems to minimize the importance of diversity within the culture. That’s just one of the troublesome things about labels. The minimization.
Well, the terms are double-edged. Reviewers can employ them in an effort to valorize certain writers’ work—experimental can be avant-garde and “fresh”—or they can marginalize writers through the same labels.
Yes, and this is exactly what happens, normally. Especially with Afro-American writers, or even any so-called subcategory of writers in this culture: women, Native American, Asian-American—whatever. It’s generally considered “the other” division. There is a kind of crossover point, too, at times. It seems to me that the ethnic identity of a writer is not what causes that kind of definition to take place. We have examples of that—Frank Yerby, Willard Motley—just in looking at black writers. There’s always been a concurrent tradition of black American writers who have not at all concentrated on the elements that cause Afro-American literature to be defined as a subcategory. Yerby, as you know, every book he wrote was a bestseller, but they were poplar novels—romance novels, essentially.
I think the defining element takes place at one level of decision on part of the writer—what an individual writer chooses to write.
It’s also possible to write out of an ethnic experience and at the same time transcend those definitions, just as Ralph Ellison has done. Toni Morrison has done that. Also Alice Walker. That happens because the writer has tapped into some elements of the human experience that transcend the merely cultural. Now, when a writer does that, it doesn’t necessarily follow that society is going to pick up on that and bring the writer into the mainstream; that doesn’t necessarily happen. A writer such as Charles Chestnut, for example, was never really brought into the mainstream as a celebrated American writer.
You dedicated your novel Emergency Exit, published in 1979, “to the people whose stories do not hold together,” from a quote from Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises in which he writes, “I mistrust all frank and simple people, especially when their stories hold together.” What did that dedication means for you in 1979, and further, what does it mean when a story doesn’t hold together?
I was trying to justify the structure of that book, which was a system of fragmentation, but a system nonetheless. In other words, a fragmented form that was essentially a unified, coherent entity. I do believe art has to have form. As William Carlos Williams said, “There is no such thing as free verse.” There is really no such thing as a free novel, it’s not like life. Life is kind of formless and pointless at times, but a novel really can’t be that way, just as a poem can’t be that way.
There’s an organizing intelligence? A structuring…
Yes. It has a kind of internal integrity. It’s like a leaf or a tree or a rock, or anything that can be seen to have its own intelligent system. In using that dedication I wanted to justify my form in that novel. I think it was probably the most radical novel I’ve written in terms of form, and therefore the least accessible, and commercially the least successful. But I don’t know whether the novel itself is a success or a failure; I don’t know that about any of my books. I haven’t felt the need to write that kind of novel again. Once I’ve been down a river, I just like to travel another way.
You've talked a lot in interviews about process. How, for you, the pleasure's in the process. So, so you ever have one of those poems that's just (snaps fingers) there?
Yes, yes. That's a great pleasure. That's a gift. Everything falls into place just beautifully. But sometimes, with poetry, I have to see the shape of it on the page. Over and over and over, before I find the poem that's in there somewhere, somehow, trying to emerge. I do a lot of drafts.
How do you feel about the difference between the way a poem is on the page and the way it might be at a reading? The trade-off between someone alone, silently reading one of your poems, able to take her time and think about it in diferent ways, or that same someone hearing you read it, hearing the rhythms and the intonations as you intended them?
Most of my poetry lends itself to the voice and is meant for the ear. I hate to think of the page as solely a blueprint. I think a lot of visually interesting things are going on on the page. But reading the poem to an audience is a different experience. Poetry is a verbal art. It's music made with words.
And those words have a certain shape and relationship to each other. A certain kind of cadence and a certain kind of sequence, the rising and falling of the voice, the line.
I teach poetry. I teach a very large class (about 125) called "Close Reading of Poetry." I try to get the students to understand these issues and to enjoy the poetry first, because if you go at 'em right away with "you gotta learn all these technical terms," you lose 99% of the class. I've had some successes, I think, with students because I take just the opposite approach. I think the difference is that a person who writes poetry understands poetry in a different way than an academic, a scholar.
You said in one of your interviews that you like to try new things and that the most challenging thing about writing fiction is selecting the right voice and developing and understanding that voice.
It's really hard. In poetry, we try to say what cannot be said.We are after things that speak to us on a much deeper level. That represent something so innate, we know it but we can't really say what it means. We know it when we see it.
And that's never been the objective of fiction. Fiction has always had more of a relationship with history. By that I mean: it represents, through the device of historical consensus, the truth of collective human experience. People go to Dickens, say, because he gives us a picture that validates that consensus.
I want to end with a quick question about small-press publishing. You mentioned to me that you would much rather publish with smaller presses, and I was hoping you’d elaborate on this.
Well, it doesn’t always happen, but when it does, the experience can be very satisfying in that there is one-to-one, personal, caring contact with the editor. With Fun & Games, the editor, Jim Perlman, was in touch with me nearly every day by phone. The chances of that happening with a large press are almost zero. With the larger presses, of course, you have advantages: distribution is better, the book can be found in bookstores—though not always. I mean, just because Random House publishes it doesn’t mean it’s going to appear in a bookstore. But in general, publishing with smaller presses is usually satisfying on the personal level.
Fiction Collective 2
'In My Amputations, Clarence Major goes Ralph Ellison one better...' [this is a] 'picaresque parody of the literary hustle...Major writes with one of black letters' most experimental fictive voices (as well as its most lyrically unhinged), and the pleasures of this novel come more from the fluid sophistication of the text than from its venting of authorial ire...Major deftly adapts his improvisatory voice to the exigencies of the narrative moment...My Amputations should easily win Major renown as a prose prestidigitator of the first rank. He handles an encyclopedic range of voices, sensibilities, and zeitgeists (Afro American, American Jewish, African, Italian, German, English, French) so skillfully that they seem authentic rather than satirical...In flight from the black writer pigeonhole, Major has become the mythographer of a host of imaginary selves. Yet the confident byplay of folkloric and literary citations in My Amputations suggests that major's alienation from the social fictions about black writers hasn't alienated him from his roots...Taking his inspiration from all five senses, a multicultural intellectual curiosity, and a polymorphous tongue, Clarence Major has given American fiction its Hopscotch, a cosmopolitan Third World man's guide to ruminating tongues.' -- Greg Tate
'My Amputations is a dense and complex work, as readers familiar with Clarence Major's four previous novels...might expect. A book in which the question of identity throbs like an infected tooth, My Amputations is a picaresque wailing out of the blues tradition; it is ironic, irreverent, sexy, on a first-name basis with the human condition, and defined in part by exaggeration and laughter...My Amputations is distinguished by a rich and imaginative prose poetry of evocative power...the effect is spectacular, like the eruption of fireworks against a dark, featureless sky...Street-smart, versed in the blues, jazz, literature, art, European classical music and philosophy, this narrator is familiar with the cultural signposts of Western civilization.' -- Richard Perry, The New York Times Book Review
'Mere description cannot convey the wild humor and audacity to be found here, nor the anxiety and cunning. The virtues of My Amputations are all active ones, best summarized, perhaps, as jumpiness...[Major] has fashioned a novel that is simultaneously a deception and one great, roaring self-revelation...It's tone should be recognizable to anybody who's ever gotten nervous looking into the mirror." -- The Nation
p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Laying a Sufjan Stevens song over Anger's 'Fireworks' seems like a really bad idea, so I think I'll just imagine that could have been like. Tim Hunter does a lot of TV, huh. And, in the States, they seem to be saying TV is where it's at, so I guess he's doing okay after all. ** James, Hi. Me too, about my brain. I am far from finished with the TV show work, so, very sadly, my novel is back hibernating again for at least a short while. The Keanu interview was in both of those books. I think everything in 'All Ears' except for a not good piece I wrote about Sonny Bono ended up in 'Smothered in Hugs'. I really like 'A Scanner Darkly', and I agree that it's the best Dick adaptation. 'Bladerunner' is a better film, I think, but 'ASD' is much truer to Dick. Thanks. I have to go right back to work today, so I hope yesterday's break was enough. I can't tell yet. ** Tosh Berman, Hi, Tosh, I definitely think so too. ** Jamie McMorrow, Bonjour! Cool, I'm glad you got to watch a few of clips. Based on the evidence, you might have been the only local who even bothered to, so extra special thanks. Monday was fairly relaxing. Oh, about the post formatting. The standard way to do it is to send the text in the post to me either in a doc (Word, Text Edit, etc.) or pasted into the body of the email. If you're using photos, indicate in the text where you want them to go with identifiers. Send the images as attachments. For videos, paste either the link to the video or the embedding code in the spots in the text where you want them to go. I'll assemble the post based on your instructions. Does that make sense? Will that work? If you have any more questions or anything, just ask. Thank you, Jamie! Slingshotted love, Dennis. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Increasingly good news about your dog, whew, nice. Yesterday was my break day. Today I have to go back to work again, this time on the overall synopsis, statement of intent, and other schmooze stuff. Then there'll be final correction on the episode texts after the producer reads them today and gives us feedback. So, very unfortunately, I'm going to be a typing wreck for the rest of this week. But tonight Zac and I are showing our film 'LCTG' to critics and press at Club Silencio, so that'll be nice, although that's stressful too. I envy your pretty calm. I'll try catch up with you on that by the weekend. Have a superlative Tuesday! ** Jeremy McFarland, Hi, Jeremy! Really good to see you! I hope the semester's wrapping is, or will be, securely and successfully taped shut asap. I've never understood why people think it's fun and clever to say or write mean things about Keanu. I always find those attacks nothing but self-indicting or something. Oh, China didn't work out, I'm so sorry. I guess you sound okay or resigned about that though, which is good. And when you do eventually go there, you'll be more 'there' due to your mouth's ability to wield Chinese. There probably won't be a screening near you, but the DVD is coming out pretty soon, so there'll be that. I've been overworking and fried. And I have to start doing that again today after a brief break yesterday, But I'm okay. It's all for the good, but I feel like my brain is a patient being discharged from a hospital a little too early or something. The TV show is the thing that's causing the overwork. Other than my complaining, it's going well. Oh, wow, that is so cool about that painting! That totally woke me up. So cool of your friend, and an honor, and it's a pretty terrific painting too! Awesome, man. Lots of love to you! ** _Black_Acrylic, Welcome home, Ben. Very glad you're good. I was watching CNN international last night for some weird reason, and their news coverage stuff was suddenly interrupted by a live/on the scene countdown of the last five minutes of that Spurs/Chelsea game plus crazed, celebrating Leicester fans, so I could tell that was a big, big deal. Best of the best, as always, re: Andrew today. ** Steevee, Hi. I read about the new Hockney doc. Yeah, if you see the old film about him, 'A Bigger Splash', it was made crystal clear way back then. I think his work really fell off after the '70s and started to seem very exercise-y and homage-y and overdone, but his early paintings and drawings are still really strong. ** Misanthrope, Hi. Ha ha, I am, I guarantee you, not twice myself at the moment. And I haven't hit the deadline yet. I hit the first part of it. But I will, for today at least, quit complaining. I read about the cat movie. I think I'll skip it. ** Sypha, Hi. Ah, that is a fun fact. Yeah, I seem to be able to hit assigned deadlines, but, like Mr. Martin perhaps, my novel has been in the starting gate for an awfully long time. Boob Day was really good, man. I have no clue about the pleasures or not and the natures of those pleasures or lack re: 'titfucking'. Theoretically, it seems like it could be hot or something. ** Bernard Welt, Hi, Bernard! Clearing out your office: Wow. I don't think I've ever known anyone who actually had to clear out their office in the real world. I guess I imagine it being sort of like prisoners clearing out their cells on their release day. I have known three people who did that. Two of them said they cried while, at the same time, hating themselves for crying. It probably isn't like that for you. I like very much every single detail of all of your upcoming plans. Especially the Paris part. It would be really great if you can help me with the Donald Day, yes. That would be wonderful. Nice haiku, buddy boy. I'm green. Tom Mandel! Holy god, what whoever said from the podium ... That makes me want to die. ** Postitbreakup, Hi, Josh! I am okay other than my brain, which is very tired. No, we're supposed to have out TV series package ready by the end of this weekend. Then the network will get it. Then, supposedly, we won't hear what their decision is for six weeks. The first episode has a cliffhanger. The second one doesn't. The last one has, at the moment, a very crappy ending because we still haven't figured how to end it yet. Nice to see you, pal. ** Colin, Hi, Colin! Thank you, sir, about the essay. Without it, there wouldn't have been a post. Oh, wow, you've set up a hell of a great line-up of people coming over there. Awesome! Yeah, just hit me up whenever the time comes that me coming over seems like a cool idea. Thanks, man. Have a really great day. ** Right. Today I draw your attention to this very fine novel by the fantastic but weirdly too often overlooked novelist and poet Clarence Major. See what you think. See you tomorrow.
Posted by Dennis Cooper at 12:37 AM