Saturday, 31 August 2013

I'm Not Literary

And it disgusts me...

Yes I'm feeling this, rather than trying to cement my position as a snob. But it's all I have.

I don't know - this isn't even a proper post... I just wonder sometimes why people do things. If you're not literary then you are (based on my limited perceptions) looking for popularity or money. What else?

And what's wrong with that? Nothing. Inherently at least. I have friends who are already making their mark in the world of plottish-series fiction, and doing a good job. But where is the reach out to poetry, the thing that links everything to humanity? Not human interest, but humanity?

I've written pages and pages on single elements within this rubbish post, but I don't think they'll find the light of day. The main thing I want to do is stimulate discussion (or at least thought).

Sorry, this is a poor attempt.

Sorry, goodbye.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Word Factory Apprenticeship!

Oh my word, how did I miss this!? Reach to the back of your drawers (hey, the ones in your desk, I mean...), dust off your manuscripts and check your digital files - Word Factory has an apprenticeship closing soon! I've had the good fortune to know one of the team, and if the rest of them are half as talented and nice as he is, then this scholarship is priceless.

Entry is free, so if you're passionate about the short story form and want to develop yourself alongside practising professionals, CHECK THIS OUT:

All the ts and cs are on that page, so read them carefully before you submit. Think about why you want to do it, what it'd mean and how it'd help you, then submit your summary along with your sample to the provided email address and good luck!

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Al Alvarez - The Writer's Voice

I just finished reading Al Alvarez' The Writer's Voice. I thoroughly recommend it for writers (and to a lesser extent critics or art/literature historians), I really do. There's little excuse not to, a dolt like me could have easily finished it within a day and, despite it covering relatively complicated concepts, I understood it.

It was perfectly complementary to a number of titles I've read for my university course, whilst giving a fresh, dynamic and also further-reaching account of literary issues that are close to my heart. It was like a small cog in a machine, deceptive because of its size, but actually the thing that ties so much of the rest of the workings together. For example, Alvarez' talk about the relationship between physicality ('muscular processes') and mental exercise brought up a number of parallels with Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Similarly, the schism between public projection of an artist and the actual writer is one of many things that Margaret Atwood covers in Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing that Alvarez also writes about. None of the material is reproduced, however, it is all fresh and stimulating. Further to my comparison with Atwood, I felt a similar sense of positively-affirming revelation after completing both books, but Alvarez' was much shorter. Being short isn't the be all and end all, of course, I'm merely saying that his succinct style packed a hell of a wallop, but if you have the time to check out Negotiating With the Dead too, I think they could go hand in hand as ways of understanding who you are as a writer and where you want to go next.

There were so many things to take away from reading Alvarez. The first - and perhaps the most 'pertinent', given the book's title - is that the writer's voice is the most important thing. One can hone craft, read widely and take all the mind-expanding substances one wants, but ultimately voice is something that can't be bought, ingested, learned or consciously changed, yet it is the difference between hitting home with your audience and simply putting words down on a page (I think the way I've put it implies that even 'review-type material' can have an energetic and touching quality with a compelling voice. I think that's spot on). My only real problem with this text is that in the first section ('Finding a Voice'), Alvarez makes a distinction between 'voice' and 'style' and then seems to fail to keep the two distinct (at least for someone of my intelligence to easily discern).

Other wisdom conveyed is that this voice can't be rushed (exactly what I need to be hearing right now), it can become powerful late on in life when youthful exuberance (ha!) has long since faded. There are so many 'lessons' I'd love to share, but I want you to read the book rather than read this. Plus one of the founding tenets of this blog is to 'keep it short', and I'm already off track there... So the last thought I'll say I took from The Writer's Voice is the disruptive (if not destructive) influence of the study of (English) Literature on literary production. I've been a keen literary student (if not a gifted one) and had, until reading this book, thought that Literature could help me write, learning, as it were, from heroes of the written word. I realise how false this is, not in the least part due to how context and the evils of biography overtake the text in primary importance. 'x was addicted to drugs, so now this poem is all about addiction,' is an overly-reductive (hey, I'm not getting paid to go into detail here haha) but fairly-true thought that may go through a Literature student's mind that will 'unlock' certain 'meanings' from a piece of writing, but also lock up and obfuscate the true power of creation that is unfolding between their eyes. This looks like a good place to shamelessly link you to Billy Collins' 'Introduction to Poetry'. But yeah, there's so much more to take from this, give it a go.

Now a bit of arse-licking: Alvarez is covering a massive swathe of time, from Classical culture all the way up to the Beat generation. Despite being a prominent critic in his own right, he covers the WRITING side of things consistently. In his considered approach, there is no deviation or afterthought. Instead he covers social, political, historical and cultural detail with an almost abrupt style, getting across strongly his voice and hygienic prowess by not wasting a single word or engaging in an ounce of circumlocution (that's my job). Clinical is a fairly good word - though it risks connotationally excluding the warmth and 'engagingness' he exudes - because he reminds me of a doctor I recently spoke to. He was such a friendly chap, it seemed like I was talking to a mate I've known for years. He talked about medical issues that were beginning to get beyond me, but then rephrased them in a more accessible way so that I fully understood. The only difference between he and Mr Alvarez is that the latter was not present to actually ask, "Did you get that?" I'm sure he would do, though, given the chance.

With that, I shall stop myself from going on even further. All I want to convey to you is how important this book is in terms of drilling right to heart of the matter of not just why writing can be important but how. It's far from a 'how to' guide, but the sensible ones amongst you will be stirred like a hot coffee and feel those granules of instant coffee within you dissolve, making the beverage of yourself stronger and more resolute. It's a day's reading, if that, so get it and make the time to absorb it. Comment back, maybe, tell me what you thought.

Peace out, and remember that no matter how down you feel, tomorrow is a new day and the limitless possibilities that abound around us
must contain some positive outcomes.

Just About

I noticed that twenty people looked at/clicked on my last football post, and that was all I needed to blabber on again about the same topic!

So: Liverpool v Notts County...

We were ahead 2-0 at half time. I was worried we'd switch off. We switched off. They scored, then they equalised.

It's The Capital One Cup, so to extra time we went.

We (finally) scored two more to make it 4-2. We just about made it.

Hard not to make Sturridge man of the match, though many of Gerrard's passes were so sublime he's a close second. Rogers' subs didn't make as much impact as I'd have thought they would, to be fair, but hey, we won.

Well done to Notts County for sticking it to us - we really had to "dig deep" to pull our fingers out our arses and win.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Cancelled Out

Got to see my first game of the new Premier League season today (well, technically yesterday now...). Not a Liverpool game, but I was excited because it featured two top-four heavyweights: Man United and Chelsea.

I didn't think they played at their technical best, nor at their highest tempo, but they definitely made up for it with application. There were a handful of very risky tackles (three or four of them were certainly dangerous fouls - high-speed slides that caught the man first), but apparently there's a new 'emphasis' in the rules that means you get more chances to cripple someone before you're carded. Unless you touch Van Persie, in which case it's a direct red.

Yeah the passing could be quite slow, and, where it was quick, moves seemed (and I stress the word 'seemed', it's not like this slug of an author could ever be an expert in these matters) to come off by accident. That being said, some of the moves came off well with relatively end-to-end play and plenty of scrappy, tooth-and-nail, who-wants-it-more kinda action in-between, where hunger somersaulted over clinicality (apart from RVP's 'Marseille roullette' on the edge of Chelsea's box in the first half) to produce a decent amount of entertainment.

Neither keeper was too busy, Rooney was clear man of the match and a draw is a very fair result. Done.

Liverpool are next playing Notts County in the Capital One Cup, 27.8.2013 1945hrs.

See you in the pub.

Friday, 16 August 2013


All I want is to pass on an image, an image imparted to me by a dear aunt. Please forward all royalties and gratuities to her:

Football fans cheering because they've found a chunk of meat in their pie.


Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Meditated Briefly: Kenneth Goldsmith's 'Being Dumb'

Before reading this post, it is recommended that you read 'Being Dumb' from The Awl. Here are some of my thoughts on said article:

Firstly, I think it's important to say straight away that I have a problem with Goldsmith's use of the word 'dumb'. It's not just the judgemental connotations of the word, I'm just not sure that it embodies the dynamics of 'conceptual writing', or indeed ideas in any branch of poetry. I know Goldsmith is trying to be inflammatory (no, I'm guilty myself there of using an incorrect word. I mean to say that he says 'provocative' things, in the sense of getting people talking about an issue. For example, in Radhika Jones' Bookforum piece 'uncreative writing', he is quoted as saying, "Writers don't need to write anything more... They just need to manage the language that already exists." He isn't making a claim about one set of writers, but all writers, thereby encouraging people to either agree completely or feel compelled to defend their position). What he espouses is a form of nutritionless (cf Goldsmith's 'Uncreativity as a Creative Practice'), re-cycled and numbing cultural production (sigh, or re-production... one feels obliged to add these 'ors' in, when really the original word does convey the right semantic weight - it's just alternatives seem more appropriate to those not already 'used to' the idea), but I argue that calling this "dumb" is not only strangely reductive, it is too prescriptive to be accurate. He claims children could do what he does, which is fair enough, so is it not 'easy'? Or perhaps 'processually accessible' is better. 'Dumb' it just isn't. He claims he is an "ill-prepared slacker", but he has set up UbuWeb (a resource of the avant-garde, ethnopoetic and 'outsider' arts), has published many successful books, is MoMA's poet laureate and has been invited to read at The White House. Saying he's dumb and lazy is a deliberate falsity. His methods rely mostly on other people's creative efforts, but his selection, typing, copying and pasting are all valid methods in the conceptual sphere, requiring skill, time and effort for completion.

Yet, to contradict myself again, describing the 'smartness' of poetry such as Bök's seems appropriate. To try and forge your own way through to originality (see what I mean about writing unstable sentences? How can you not forge your own way through to originality? It doesn't seem to make sense, but what I mean is producing original things, rather than re-appropriational originality) requires wider cultural engagement, but then uncreative writing doesn't necessarily exclude the artist from reading what they want. As I've said, Goldsmith is deliberately being overly-deprecatory for effect. I think a semantically 'tighter' term than 'smart' could be... I want to say 'more traditional', i.e. 'that which is not uncreative writing', but that throws up too many problems... The avant-garde is hardly 'traditional' is it? I suppose the best compromise I can muster instead of smart is 'newly original' work, for to classify the work or the workers as 'smart' again falls into prescriptive notions of one group being 'better' than another, on the level of craft and personality, which is not helpful.

Goldsmith then produces an extra dissemination of his 'intelligence' concepts with "smart smart", "smart dumb" and "dumb dumb" (I don't know what happened to 'dumb smart', surely including that would really have put the cat amongst the clarity pigeons...). I think it would have been much simpler and logical to have used these three terms from the start, rather than adding them in when his argument is already underway, but I am in no way suggesting that Goldsmith wanted this piece to be simple and logical. That just wouldn't be Kenneth.

I thought 'Being Dumb' had many interesting personal observations, especially the ones I've mentioned already about Christian Bök and their 'deep admiration' of each other's work. Again, though, this undermines Goldsmith's dumbness; how can he be a, or draw from, a "tabula rasa" when he knows of other people's work? He can't avoid knowing things about culture. But, like I say, he isn't exactly taking all this seriously. He is arguing, I suppose, that the work itself doesn't belong to a 'school' in the sense of people collected together to produce their own material, wherein people often make allusions and adhere to aesthetic and various other uniformities. Because the uncreative writers' work is also other people's, there is a 'blank slate' in the sense that you cannot critically read it (or, indeed, read it at all in some cases) like you would if a 'smart' poet had written it.

Paragraphs that are full of actual examples of what he's talking about - and are therefore more potent and useful - are five, eight, eleven, twelve and sixteen. This rapid-fire accumulation of relevant instances provides a vivid, astute and reasonably concise collage. You get a picture of what 'smart smart' cultural producers get up to, and the references to 'smart dumb' Thelonius Monk and John Cage are spot on, in my humble opinion, as they represent both popular/successful artists who had courage, but they also highlight literature's lack of engagement with this side of art, and explains partly Goldsmith's pursuit of filling this void.

One bone of contention I stumbled across in 'Being Dumb' was the idea that uncreative writing is "free of failure." I don't think one can make that claim of any writing, though the natures of failure and success are highly debatable and subjective. The aim of this writing is to be true to the principles of selection and re-appropriation. There are many ways that can go wrong, and then you have created merely a 'similar piece', where the changes will be assumed to have some meaning that they don't have, which is problematic. It would be baffling if one got it wrong, therefore, and therein failure lies. In writing out many pages, one may correct a mistake that was in the original, out of habit, or perhaps start putting in errors that weren't there, out of transcription tiredness. Maybe one might re-format parts of it, according to the rules you adhere to (possibly something as simple as using "s instead of 's in dialogue, or vice versa). When the movement's major proponent describes proofreading as an activity that causes him to "fall asleep repeatedly" (as in 'Being Boring'), then you can see that adhering strictly to the pure activity of re-appropriation is actually a hard task, certainly in terms of keeping constantly focused.

It is this point about attention to detail and dedication to aims and objectives that leads me onto my next point, that ties the whole article together and sums up (rather reductively) it's ramifications. The overall spirit of this work strikes me as liberating (different to 'inspirational', more like an affirmation of writerliness). His delineation, however contentious, of how being 'dumb' can help you achieve a Christ-like victory over failure is a lovely thought. I'd suggest, though, that this 'freedom from failure', i.e. liberation, can be achieved whenever one totally commits to any ideology. If you don't start a project because you're worried how it'll be received, it's like you're trapped in a prison cell. If you start the project, tentatively, still with anxiety, you're looking out the window of your cell, but you're still locked inside. If you say 'my manifesto (if you have one) is watertight. I believe in my project. This has to be done. This thing must exist, and I am the one to bring it to pass', then immerse yourself fully in its production, you leave behind the earthly concerns of doubt and free yourself from failure by doing it. You have succeeded by bringing truth to others. It may be panned critically, but if you count that as failure then you might have to ask yourself why you're writing (and therefore if you think you're a writer). It's the backing force - whether it be creative manifesto, something political or whathaveyou - that takes you beyond the petty success/failure boundaries and into a kind of invulnerability, because the aim of your project is simply existence (the best you can make it). This message of confidence (or should it just be 'stubbornness'?) is what I took to heart, though this was heavily tempered by Goldsmith's insistence on using semantically obfuscating words. Smartness and dumbness have incredibly little to do with conceptual writing - the idea is always that the concept takes a higher importance than the 'work' of the writer, so why use such connotationally disparate lexis? Either way I found it a stimulating read, I hope you did too.

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed my (overly long) thoughts on 'Being Dumb'. I'd encourage you to check out the links, especially 'Being Boring', as the use of the word 'boring' has, for me, a less negatively-loaded prescriptive function, allowing for a more direct appreciation of Goldsmith's message.