A bunch of stink


The Paris Review has an old interview with W.S. Merwin, who just won the Pulitzer prize for Poetry. The New York Review of Books had a great  piece on Merwin, and the consequences of the choices he makes with regard to form and punctuation, but peversely, stupidly and really quite bafflingly, there is no electronic version of this even for print subscribers. Exclamation marks all round!!! I don’t mind it only being available to subscribers (as with the LRB, Harpers, almost every other decent literary publication) but to ask for an extra $20 a year to read online is, to my mind, a real bunch of stink.

Found #2


This is the front cover of a Christmas card found in a paperback copy of Huysmans’ Against Nature. It is in all likelihood from Christmas 1963. Inside, once, the pleasantries are disposed of, the writer bemoans the state of the nation.


The analysis continues on the reverse:


Whilst the thought of the US ‘falling back to the level of some South American republics or the Congo’ must have been chilling for Pat, one hopes she was comforted by the excellent work of the CIA in makng sure that other people’s elected leaders met broadly similar fates.

Found #1


My work at a charity bookshop (that cannot be named) mainly involves selling books I don’t care for to people who ask me questions like, ‘So, do you read much?’

My other main duty is going through bags of donations, finding what can be sold, then disposing of the chaff (all of which gets recycled). For the next few posts I’ll be sharing some of the things that have slipped from the pages. Today’s involves the photo above, that came from a 1982 Blue Peter annual. Though obviously some kind of photo collage, it is all the more impressive for being pre-Photoshop, as attested to by the inscription on the reverse.


Morbid anatomy



anatomicaltheatre042These images are from the La Specola Museum of Anatomy in Florence, which has a large collection of wax models. Though these are mostly of individual limbs and organs, there are several full figures, which are arranged with particular care (the pregnant woman, whose stomach is opened to display the baby, has long, brown, sensuous hair and wears a string of pearls).

If you have an interest in such things, Morbid Anatomy, which surveys “the Interstices of Art and Medicine, Death and Culture” has an embarassment of such riches (kudos to the cats at Fox and Comet for bringing this site to my notice).

Mason & Seidel


From a recent piece in the New York Times

One night after Christmas last year, in a dark, well-upholstered restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the American poet Frederick Seidel, an elegant man of 73 with an uncommonly courtly manner, told me a story about poetry’s power to disturb. “It was years ago,” Seidel explained in his measured voice, “in the days when I had an answering machine. I’d left my apartment, briefly, to go outside to get something, and when I came back there was a message. When I played it, there was a woman’s voice, a young woman’s voice sounding deeply aroused, saying: ‘Frederick Seidel . . . Frederick Seidel . . . you think you’re going to live. You think you’re going to live. But you’re not. You’re not going to live. You’re not going to live. . . .’ All this extraordinary, suggestive heavy breathing, getting, in the tone of it, more and more intensely sexual, more gruesome, and then this sort of explosion of sound from this woman, and: ‘You’re . . . not . . . going . . . to . . . live.’ ”

Wyatt Mason, the author of the piece, writes a very fine blog for Harpers (which also has a fun piece on Seidel that casually bashes Garrison Keillor). I first came across Mason’s work in the LRB, where he wrote an article about DFW, in which he expressed doubts about the level of patience and close reading required to fully appreciate the stories in Oblivion, DFW’s last collection. Though he did not doubt the quality of the pieces, in his opinion an average, literate reader could be forgiven for being unwilling to make the considerable effort required. At the time I disagreed with him, perhaps in the belief that this made me more than an average reader. The fact that DFW’s last few published pieces (particularly Good People in the New Yorker) seemed to eschew such tricks or puzzles suggest that DFW had become aware of the diminishing returns of such forms.

At the risk of being thought helpful…




Here’s a handy list of publications to send stories to (thank you Bookfox)  most of them in the US. Those who only accept postal submissions will want a SAE for a reply- which means finding US stamps (94c), messing around with International Reply Coupons (expensive and a hassle for all concerned) or contacting the editor directly and pleading that you are resident in the UK where the postal system is run by jackals and bears. The latter can actually work.

The list is by no means exhaustive, and I would question the inclusion of Epoch in the ‘Highly Competitive’ Section, as it’s just starting out and has a somewhat fresh-faced look (so says the old man of the sea). Otherwise it’s a good place to start, and will be invaluable in helping you to decide how bad you should feel about a given rejection.

http://www.thejohnfox.com/bookfox/ranking-of-literary-journ.html (you’ll have to paste this one in- it resists becoming a link).

William T. Vollmann


Interviewer: I want to talk about your artwork on the walls here. There’s so much sexuality- particularly female sexuality- represented. Tell me about it.

Vollmann: Oh, it gets my dick hard, sweetheart.

(from an interview in Tin House Vol. 9 No. 3)

William T. Vollmann, at age 49, has already written too many damn books, more than I will ever write, let alone get published. This is not really a complaint. I am delighted that an author of his ability is able to be so productive: 19 or so large books, some fiction, some non-fiction, the longest being Rising Up and Rising down, which, in its unabridged form, clocks in at 3,300 pages. I have only read a few of these, but from You Bright and Risen Angels alone, it is horribly, wonderfully clear that he is trying to map out territory in very unpleasant lands. The author’s note is fair warning:

This book was written by a traitor to his class. It is dedicated to bigots everywhere. Ladies and gentleman of the black shirts, I call upon you to unite, to strike with claws and kitchen pokers, to burn the grub-worms of equality’s brood with sulfur and oil, to hudle together whispering about the silverfish in your basements, to make decrees in your great solemn rotten assemblies concerning what is proper, for you have nothing to lose but your last feeble principles.

The book is about the long and bloody conflict between Insects and the forces of Electricity (especially the blue globes).

Flicking through the book, which I read several years ago, I see that the page corners are turned in many places, each marking some place where my reading pleasure was so great that I was forced to harm the page. It is often difficult to recall what prompted the triangular mutilation. Without context, they can just seem very fine sentences. And then there is a passage like this, which causes bells to ring in deeply sunken cellars.

Generally speaking, she didn’t have much luck. Being maladjusted she was taken to a psychiatrist, who with his encounter groups and truth serums distorted her social reality so that life lost its cutting edge. At sixteen she stood on a broken bottle barefoot, hoping to bleed to death, but her mother found her and took her to the hospital. At eighteen she jumped off a bridge, but the river below was so polluted with gummy hydrocarbons that its surface merely dimpled to receive her like an immense trampoline and bounced her up and down until she got sick to her stomach. As a freshman in college a year later, having failed both in her exams and in love, she swallowed a bottle’s worth of asprin. Her ex-boyfriend came in to her unexpectedly next morning (for he wanted to tell her yet again how much he despised her in her stupidity and weakness, and she wasn’t even very goodlooking with her long neck and big nose and weak eyes, to say nothing of being a lousy lay, and he was fucking tired of the way she held onto his letters and he was going to get them back); and she was still alive, though red-faced and wheezing, with a suicide note lying on the bureau. Much like mild-mannered Clark Kent in his pre-Superman days, dear Emily was always doing the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time in some trivial pathetic sort of way like most people one meets in our great Republic except that they are straitjacketed against adverse circumstances by the power grids that run screaming day and night beneath the surface of the neighborhood parking lot and in our furnaces and boilers and air conditioning rerun clamps so that no one ever has to deal with the hot muggy horrible outdoors of reality unless there’s a power failure somewhere, though maybe we get a hint of it when there’s a brownout and the oven takes longer to cook and the Announcer’s voice slows down and his face flickers and melts into an incomprehensible blue globe for just a minute and then all’s back to normal.

There are so many reasons why this appeals to me. At the broadest level, there is the sweep from the personal to the societal, from the interior thoughts of the loathsome ex-boyfriend to the talk of ‘our great Republic’.

There is Vollmann’s shift from horror (her standing on the broken bottle, on purpose) to absurdity (her bouncing on the polluted water) and then onto cruelty (not simply the attempted suicide, but the fact that she is, via the parethetical comment, being mocked while trying to kill herself), all in the space of four sentences.

And then there are the blue globes which scare the beejesus out of me.

Vollmann has also written books about being in Afghanistan, riding in boxcars, povery, violence, and most recently, Imperial Valley in California (a shorter volume of merely 1,344 pages, due out this month).

His most recent essay (on photography) can be found here.

The Golden Hour Tour


Yes, it is spring, and we at Forest Publications have made a new book. The Golden Hour Book Vol. 2 is a collection of songs, poems and stories from some of the horribly talented people that have performed at The Golden Hour, the Forest cafe’s monthly cabaret night (I too have been guilty of this, reservations about readings notwithstanding). Due to the infinite largesse of the Scottish Arts Council, we are able to go to a number of impossibly glamorous places to promote the book:

29 April – Amsterdam, Cafe Sappho – Vijzelstraat 103 1017 HH (+31 6 17140296). 3 Euros Entry + Free Stolen Stories Book! 8pm – Late

2 May – Berlin – Studio54, Oranienburger 54 at Tacheles – 3 Euros Entry + Free Stolen Stories Book! 9Pm – Late.

4 May – Paris – Shakespeare and Co – Paris – 37, Rue Bûcherie, 75005 Paris, France‎ – 01 43 25 40 93‎ – Free! 7pm

5 May – London – The Camden Head – 100 Camden High Street, (020 7485 4019) – ‎ 8pm – £3 Entry + Free Stolen Stories Book! 8pm – 11pm

6 May- Cambridge CB2- 5/7 Norfolk Street, Cambridge £3 Entry + Free Stolen Stories Book! 8pm – 11pm

If you’re in these neighbourhoods, or know anyone who is, tell them about it and afterwards, they’ll look at you in wonder. This will be especially effective for people you’ve always had a crush on. On our previous tour, the rate of couplings increased by 23% in each of the cities we visited (a figure which of course excludes any hotness on our part. Or parts).



Ladies and gentleman… Mr Donald Barthelme. Who was a writer. Prinicipally of stories. About these stories, it is hard to be certain. Some of them involve pictures. Others contain people. None of them are “constructed mousetrap-like to supply, at the finish, a tiny insight typically having to do with innocence violated”.

This last sentence is one that particularly pains me: God, after he had made several beasts, must have quickly lost any joy at the sight of a creature swimming or flying. It had already been done so well. If it had been worth doing it all.

Something further can be learnt here, here but not here.

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