27 01 2009



as for my writing

5 05 2009

“As for my writing. I like it enough to keep going. I dislike it enough to keep going.”

– James Richardson

the unsuccessful artist

26 04 2009

“Let me point out, if it has escaped your notice, that what an artist does, is fail. Any reading of the literature (I mean the theory of artistic creation), however summary, will persuade you instantly that the paradigmatic artistic experience is that of failure. The actualization fails to meet, equal, the intuition. There is something “out there” which cannot be brought “here”. This is standard. I don’t mean bad artists, I mean good artists. There is no such thing as a “successful artist” (except, of course, in worldly terms). The proposition should read, “Susan becomes an artist and lives unhappily ever after”. This is the case. Don’t be deceived.”

– Donald Barthelme, ‘The Sandman’


14 04 2009

“Judged at the bar of the reality-principle, the consolations of art are childish, and they reinforce mankind’s willful refusal to put away childish things. But if man’s destiny is to change reality until it conforms to the pleasure-principle, and if man’s fate is to fight for instinctual liberation, then art appears, in the words of Rilke, as the Weltanschauung of the last goal. Its contradiction of the reality-principle is its social function, and a constant reinforcement of the struggle for instinctual liberation; its childishness is to the professional critic a stumbling block, but to the artist its glory.”

– Norman Brown, Life Against Death


5 04 2009

“The truth is that the writer of short pieces wants nothing more in this world than to write long texts, interminably long texts in which the imagination does not have to work, in which facts, things, animals and men meet, seek each other out, exist, live together, love, or shed their blood freely without being subjected to the semicolon or the period.

That period, which at this very moment has been imposed upon me by something stronger than myself, something I both respect and despise.”

– Augusto Monterroso, ‘Brevity’ from Complete Works and Other Stories translated by Edith Grossman.


6 03 2009

In an otherwise pedestrian essay in this month’s Poetry, C.K. Williams remarks:

“We all know that when a contemporary painter creates an impressionist painting, no matter how deftly it may be done, no matter how seductive it might appear, it offends, seems at best kitsch, a trivialization, at worst a painful violation, hardly worth being deplored. And when a contemporary poet generates a Keatsian sonnet that isn’t driven by anything in the spiritual cosmos of his or her time, if there is nothing of our difficult contemporary reality infused in the work, and of the poetic history that informs that reality, then experienced readers will find it inert, without essential energy, not worth the effort of bothering with.”

I sometimes think that prose is the one area of twentieth century art that has remained largely immune to this tendency. Which is not to say that the last century did not see prodigious amounts of innovation in prose style – it did – only that all that innovation did not render the old styles redundant. As Williams points out, it would be more or less impossible for a contemporary poet to emulate the style of a poet from a century ago and be taken seriously (and the same goes for painters and classical composers), yet every year sees the publication of dozens of novels that, in terms of style and form at least, would seem barely out of place in 1900, and these works are treated as legitimate works of art. Read the rest of this entry »

caveat lector

28 02 2009

“approaching every new book with an open mind is as well-meaning but ultimately exhausting as approaching every stranger on the street with open arms; you’ll meet some nice people, sure, but your charming generosity won’t be reciprocated most of the time. What’s worse, a tack-sharp taste, dinged by so much sheer dullness, will in time become blunted (into blurb-writing, no doubt). When braving any new book of poems—particularly by an author you’re not too familiar with—it’s best to brace yourself and expect the worst. This needn’t involve cynicism. Indeed, you probably shouldn’t be opening the book in the first place if you aren’t, on some deep level, already hoping for the best—that is, the discovery of a great poem. But hope should remain on that deep level, well-protected, until the shell that shields it is genuinely jarred.”

– Jason Guriel, ‘Going Negative’ Poetry March 2009

the casket

9 02 2009

“A short story is narrower than a room in a cheap hotel; it is narrower than the wombs through which we descended. It does violence to any large dead man to force him within it. To fit him (even his body) into the casket of a few paragraphs, he must be twisted and contorted; his stiff arms, his extended legs must be hacked or broken. A rigor mortis operates within the memory; his image stiffens and resists in every inch. One must maim him to fit him in.”

“The outside of the casket is mad up mostly of the writer, his descriptions, his feelings, his fancies, his regrets – little or nothing about the corpse on the inside. Nothing but a few spoken words. But it is those words, only them, which give the third dimension to the story, show that there is space inside the casket. For this reason whenever I read a short story I skip through the narrative paragraphs and concentrate on the dialogue.”

– Jack Spicer, ‘The Scrollwork on the Casket’ from my vocabulary did this to me