Advice for Social Activist Writers and Readers, Inspired by the work of Adriana Paramo

(1) A literary work of social activism is nothing if not a series of ethical decisions made by the author, one that invites a return volley of decisions from the reader: what is important, whose story needs telling, do I recognize the importance of this issue, et cetera, ad nauseam.

(2) Always be mindful, but never forget to take the step that comes after contemplation; reflection is the best of starts, but a true work of social activism inspires action — recognition is where it starts, but movement is the ultimate goal, a realization in reaction.

(3) Finally: if your decision-making process and/or your understanding of the world has changed since reading a book, you must take a moment, a breather, and recognize that you have just read a good book.  Do not hide it; pass that information along.

Adriana Paramo’s talk was provoking, to say the least; more on this talent in the world of social activist writing can be found at her website, here.

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From and On “What Is the Business of Literature?” By Richard Nash (2013)

“[Publishing has the power[ to disrupt industries like education, to drive the movie industry, to empower the gaming industry. … the notion of an imperiled book culture assumes that book culture is a beast far more refined, rarified, and fragile than it actually is. By defining books as against technology, we deny our true selves, we deny the power of the book. Let’s restore to publishing its true reputation—not as a hedge against the future, not as a bulwark against radical change, not as a citadel amidst the barbarians, but rather as the future at hand, as the radical agent of change, as the barbarian. The business of literature is blowing shit up.”

The entirety of Nash’s article can be found here.

I worry that the closing argument contained in Nash’s article opens up too many opportunities for Michael Bay to defend Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen as a work of art; having been involuntarily exposed to those reels on a half-dozen occasions, I would argue that there exist exploitation films–ones severely lacking in explosions–that do a better job of embodying “literature.”

Some of us like to think of ourselves as the disciples of long-established creeds, the guardians of the holy world of literature against those that might defile it, against the corrupting influence of a loose-moral-having wave of newfangled filth; some of us like to think of ourselves as anarchists, revolting against an established hierarchy that we ourselves find revolting, tearing down the tyranny of an industry that refuses to recognize the beauty in looking forward rather than behind.  The truth is that we are, all of us, a mixture of the two.

We are the breadwinners who publish Poe and Austen as a surefire means to put food on the table in an attempt to find secure ground in an industry in which taking a risk on an untested author could get a whole floor fired.

We are the artists who pour a sentence–one that has somehow never been written before–out onto the page in an effort to release the creative fluid that burns behind our eyes, so tightly compressed within our minds that pens act as our safety valves.

It’s in finding the balance between these to identities that we thrive.  It’s in pulling together that we branch out, in imploding that we explode; in reconciling, we blow shit up.

On ‘Dogwood’ Poetry and Its Place Within Weird Fiction

HP Lovecraft, who is, as some of you might have noticed, my self-appointed paragon of literary beauty, tried his hand at poetry only a few times in his tragically cut-short life.  Having read several of these attempts, I can confirm the belief that poetry of prose does not directly correspond with poetry of verse.  Kindle erotica writers, with the help of Sir Mix-A-Lot, might be able to moonlight as lyricists for Nicki Minaj (id est “Anaconda”), but it seems that not all authors are born with the gift of songwriting.  Regardless: it is Lovecraft’s prose, not his verse, that defines the genre of weird fiction (see my thoughts on that here).  Which begs the question, “Does poetry have a place within Lovecraft’s genre?”

I prefer my poetry in forms of Andrea Gibson and Taylor Mali, but I’m into the weirder side of things, too.  And, going back through old copies of the locally (to me) edited, nationally published Dogwood literary magazine, I would argue that “Sea Stories” by Derek Sugamosto (published in Dogwood 2013) and “The Moths” by Jan Bailey (published in Dogwood 2003) would both feel at home, to one extent or another, in a journal of weird (in the Lovecraftian sense) poetry.  To me, at least, it’s about the minuscule details that illuminate the larger concepts: the strands of DNA that house remnants of a long-dead sun.  The best of Lovecraft’s work lingers on each living moment, something that all great fiction should do.  And I suppose the only thing that separates weird fiction from popular fiction is that it gets to the inner workings and the ultimate truths of the universe not through everyday human drama but through celestial geometry and the fever dreams of discarded youth.

So yeah, if you’re into that sort of thing, feel free to join us.  Cthulhu bakes a mean cookie.

An Argument of Alliteration: A Manifesto for a Literary Diary of the Weird

From Wikipedia: “Weird fiction is a subgenre of speculative fiction originating in the late 19th and early 20th century. It can be said to encompass the ghost story and other tales of the macabre…. Because genre or stylistic conventions had not been established, weird tales often blend the supernatural, mythical, and even scientific.”

Give us your tired and drained, your apocalyptic visions and your new-beginning reveries, your lifeblood and your death rattle; we have no qualms. Those streams rejected by the sea may yet find homes in these lakes—let the shores of this, a refuse-and-refused-ridden Lac Supérieur, be combed by treasure-hunters and dream-seekers alike. Let them see that our words are not landmines but gold mines, rivulets of meaning overlooked by those spent too long basking in a sun of terseness. We are the broken, the beaten, the downtrodden host made anew in words often thought best left unsaid. Let it be known: we are the weird.

We are the macabre beyond the mundane, the ones who know that raw emotion requires the touch of adjectives. We are those who know that the editor’s knife carries no anesthetic; it stings. And we long to feel something other than pain, despite what the subjects of our pieces might convey. From sci-fi noir to the feelings of stars, we crave what the human mind might initially reject, what the scions of so-called “literary quality,” forged in a century plagued by war, would call “the old ways.” These, our detractors, are men and women born in a period of terror, born into fearing the atom bomb and the suddenness with which it snuffs out all life; and so they write with sentences short, so that whatever diminutive addition they might make to the written word—and their associated, underdeveloped meanings—might be heard before the shockwave hits and their bodies become shadows upon a wall.

We carry our souls, ones that were born in the pre-nuclear age, upon our hands and wrists, and we bleed them out upon the page; we know the value in revery, the positivity of proliferation—not of weaponry but of language, despite that we might use the latter as the former. Our mouths and pens were raised in the era that had nothing but time, the era that knew when to pause and when to proceed laterally, spiraling out across the stars, our spilling-out words resonating with the background hum of the universe. We might still fear the bomb, but we know that the way to fight against it is to proceed regardless; wee do not bow to terseness. We are the weird and we speak volumes.

From and On ‘Paper Dreams,’ edited by Travis Kurowski (2013)

“1922–Hemingway publishes his first story, ‘A Divine Gesture,’ in the New Orleans literary magazine The Double Dealer. Throughout the following decade Hemingway continues an active, though often contentious, relationship with literary magazines….” (393)

I have a dislike-hate relationship with Ernest Hemingway in addition to any and all other authors who would reduce the already-bland sentence “John sat down to dinner with his wife” to “He ate with her.”  Knowing Hemingway’s disposition, the sentence might more accurately read as “He ate.”   And again, knowing Hemingway, we’d see that two-syllable sentence many times over the course of the novel in which it appeared, the contents of a soup given greater play than interpersonal relationships and/or internal musings.  The current school of fiction-writing dictates that terseness is next to godliness; I have seen far too many Hemingwannabes in my time.  This is why I, perhaps erroneously, value the second paragraph of HP Lovecraft’s “Celephais” as one of the most beautiful and truthful pieces of English fiction.  I search for and fail to find those “fountains that sing in the sun” among the pages written by the so-called father of modern fiction.  I have a growing disbelief in the value of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Nobel Prize in Literature.  And as an editor of my own inconsequential shit-stain of a collegiate literary magazine, part of me takes a fair amount of pleasure in knowing that my turn-of-the-century forefathers gave Hemingway something of a “contentious” time.

For the ill-fated ones among us who hold value in adjectives: Lovecraft’s “Celephais.”

For those who would rather read of pasta-consumption: The Hemingway Cookbook.