THE WAY to think about the difference between zines and zeens is to think lo-fi versus hi-fi. Or cassettes versus vinyl.
Traditionally, print zines– real zines, of the photocopied-at-a-coffeeshop variety– were inexpensively made, black-and-white images and text on basic 20-lb copy paper. The DIY punk rawness of the presentation was the point. Illustrations were cut-ups and collages, for a sense of chaos. Type was the smallest possible, words scarcely readable, and there was a lot of it. A few classic zinesters are still using something akin to this style, among them Joe Smith of Alternative Incite:
At the same time (90s; early 2000s) there were a lot of art zines around, which were raw in a different way. Unique shapes and sizes. More colors; usually better paper. Hand-colored pages with unique drawings and designs. Even material glued on them– feathers, sequins, felt: anything. Words themselves often hand-lettered. The drawback to more intense artistry was that the number of copies which could be made was strictly limited. Sometimes as few as 20 or 25.
THE ZEEN DIFFERENCE
With our new print zeens we’ve taken every advantage of print zines and bumped them up a level. There’s rawness and authenticity– combined with quality. Quality materials, designs, and writing. We’ve emphasized the analog experience, so that words and images pop off the page. The writing we’ve accepted or solicited for each zeen has fit the particular aesthetic of that zeen, so that each one– Extreme Zeen 1 and 2, ZEENITH, Crime City U.S.A. and Literary Fan Magazine— has its own individual personality.
Purchase a couple or three at our POP SHOP and see.
MUCH DISCUSSION has taken place in recent days– based on the firing of Danielle Rose by Barren Magazine— about the place of poetry in contemporary society.
Is anyone asking the question of HOW to best connect the poetic art with the general public?
At New Pop Lit we’ve tried to do it in a variety of ways. At our online site, by publishing what we consider the highest quality poetry we can find.
For our new print-zeens, we’ve sought high-quality poems that, for the most part, are also visual and concise. Poems which can be illustrated or used with designs in some way to make the reading experience more striking.
Then, also, there have been our experiments a few years ago with Fun Pop Poetry.
FUN POP POETRY
Fun Pop Poetry was a feature we ran for a number of months at one of our blogs. (Which was then later used for the uncompleted “All-Time American Writers Tournament”– yet another example that we’ve been experimenting with a number of things.)
The idea behind Fun Pop Poetry was understanding the roots of poetry lie in oral culture. Pre-literary. Poetic devices such as meter and rhyme were used to make recitations of the spoken word musical and memorable. Rhyme and other euphonic tricks are hooks that embed themselves in the poet’s– and the audience’s– brain.
EVEN Shakespeare’s work– the soliloquys in particular– though usually written in blank verse, has hooks all over the place: “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day. . . .”
Which make them easy to remember and a joy to recite.
The idea of hooks in poetry is akin to hooks in pop songs. Which brings us to pop poetry.
New Pop Lit‘s Kathleen Marie Crane writes poetry with hooks which stay in your head– is in fact the master at it. For instance, “You Don’t Stand a Chance,”which she recorded for our Open Mic feature.
Or, this previously unpublished poem:
Grand Mackerel Spa and Resort 2
Pre-fab flab floating flotsam hotel pool
Blank faced guests spoon their morning gruel
Evening drunks form a fluorescent queue
Craft designer drinks served by a skeleton crew
Mirthless grins light dim empty faces
Labyrinth of vacant rooms with no human traces
Pint glasses clink with a hollow sound
Here’s to burning this fucking hotel to the ground!
How could anyone not remember that first line? (Or not have fun reciting it?)
Kath has written many other pop poems, some of which are at the aforementioned blog under the Fun Pop Poetry heading, under a pseudonym. We hope to someday collect those and many more from other poets who participated in that feature, into a zeen. If so, it will be colorful.
The sale of vinyl records has increased greatly over the past fifteen years– 27.5 million vinyl LPs sold in the U.S. last year according to Forbes magazine– which makes them more than mere collectors items.
A plethora of online music sites explain the resurgence. Ted Goslin with Yamaha Music gives four reasons for it: -that vinyl is tangible -the cool factor -the listening experience, and -the sound quality. Another online site says it’s because vinyl is “warmer, fuller, more authentic,” and credits also the artwork of vinyl records.
One of the more thorough analyses of the phenomenon is this essay by an outfit called Way Back When at Medium:
Additionally, the cover art on albums is displayed in a much better fashion on vinyl records. Don’t believe us, just go to a vinyl record shop and compare the art on your phone compared to having it in the physical. There are so many little details missed within the artwork when it’s on your phone than when you hold the album in a physical version.
Vinyl records are also a sign of someone having an exquisite taste in music.
The question for us at New Pop Lit is whether these same reasons can apply to literary products– such as the zeens we’re selling at our POP SHOP.
Zeens are about the analog reading experience. They’re designed to be viscerally unique, with emphasis on quality of paper, art, and a lot of color, to create a warmer, more tangible presence than any other print publication. More real than digital.
(Can people truly be satisfied spending most of their waking hours in the fake two-dimensional world of electronic screens, when a 3-D alternative is everywhere around us?)
Will the analog revolt extend to the literary field? We hope to find out.
The kind of change which improves a skill or art within-the-field, but doesn’t expand the field or the field’s footprint within the greater culture. Most often the change is incremental, such as modest improvements in technique.
For example, the sport of tennis. In men’s tennis where every top player has a high level of skill and talent, Novak Djokavic has been able to stand out through changes in his training and diet.
The problem with gradual change is that it’s not enough to keep interest in a sport like tennis from dropping in relation to the greater culture, as other sports and other cultural happenings move forward at a faster rate.
This situation applies to literature and especially with the more esteemed “literary” end of the spectrum. MFA programs train students in refining their craft, polishing their short stories, and the sentences within, without changing the basic template. Without rethinking anything about the art. The nature of the writing workshop in fact discourages experimentation, or any writing which might look “bad” or disturbing because it’s trying something new.
The result: an unexciting literary game which presents always the same-old same-old. The predictable and been done.
2.) RADICAL CHANGE
A leap forward. The kind of change which drastically remakes an art and in so doing creates an explosion of interest in it. For instance, the way rock n roll beginning in 1955 exploded onto national then international consciousness and completely remade the music business, expanding interest and multiplying the size of the market many times over.
In sports, an example would be the emergence of Babe Ruth as a star circa 1920. He’d started out as a pitcher. With nothing to lose in his perfunctory at bats– expected to make an out– he began swinging for the fences, taking huge swings at pitches, thereby striking out at an increased rate but when connecting, hitting the ball for a home run. This went 180 degrees against the practice of the time of playing it safe, the goal to just make contact with the ball and get on base.
Ruth’s monster home runs caused massive fan interest. New York Yankee attendance doubled, while many other baseball teams smashed their previous attendance records due to the Ruth effect. Babe Ruth became for ten years the most popular figure in America.
THE QUESTION is whether or not this kind of change could happen to the sleepy literary game?
What it would take is allowing writers to embarrass themselves as they try new ideas– to “make outs”– as they work toward making the art fresh and exciting.
I’ve long argued for the vulnerability of the top-heavy conglomerate model of publishing, centered as it is in two hyper-expensive global cities, New York and London. Lease rates, rents, cost-of-living, salaries– everything about doing business in those two towns should make them uncompetitive in comparison to a city like, say, Detroit. The prestige of a swanky address, and the ability to woo clients in Manhattan bars and restaurants, as a value can go only so far.
Newsweek magazine anyway seems to have discovered a way out. Go onto theirContactpage, and you see a large logo for something called EnveritasGroup. Enveritas is a digital marketing agency. Presumably they were hired by– or partnered with– Newsweek, to restore the publication to its previous standing. And lo and behold, the new strategy appears to have moved Newsweek headquarters to the most prestigious address in New York City: One World Trade Center. The lofty skyscraper built to replace the twin towers.
But has it? Search online the listed address with suite number included– 8500– and you come up with not Newsweek, but an outfit called Servcorp. Servcorp sells virtual office space– meaning, a prestigious address. They are, in other words, a glorified maildrop, for Newsweek and other companies.
Where is Newsweek magazine’s headquarters actually located, including their editorial office? Elsewhere in New York? Individual editors’ homes and on Zoom? A small town in Arkansas? We don’t know. But it sure looks as if Newsweek is perpetuating the illusion they’re still based in Manhattan, while cutting costs drastically by working elsewhere.
The downside: no more swanky three-martini lunches.
“At the Opera” in EZ2 is a cut-up multidimensional short story inspired by the innovations of avant-garde pioneers William Burroughs and Kathy Acker– but also by the editing techniques of pop music (sampling) and cinema (montage). The presumptuous goal: to create a literary collage, using public domain writing by several of the greatest novelists who ever lived.
ABOUT THE FICTION
The three other main fiction works are subtly dystopian– subliminally speculative– about where our world is now, and where it’s headed.
ABOUT THE POETRY
The poems in EZ2 were chosen specifically either for their ability to comment on an adjacent story (“Common Note” by John Zedolik commenting on “Care” by Sam Paget), OR for their ability to be part of a word-and-design fusion, where the poem is not simply accompanied by an illustration or design, but fuses with it.
THE ANALOG EXPERIENCE
Extreme Zeen 2 is the ultimate in analog literary experience, presenting words and colors which “pop” off the page and cannot be duplicated on any digital electronic screen.
THE NEW POP LIT MISSION
The New Pop Lit mission is to create publications which can engage all segments of the population– with words and presentations that are fun, stimulating, and thought-provoking. Not off-putting text-dense books, but instead, inviting attractive zeens.
On-line seller Amazon has a current market value of $1.59 trillion and climbing. It’s the largest e-commerce company in the world and no one else is close. At the beginning of 2020 Amazon had over 30,000 delivery trucks and has put in an order with electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian for 100,000 more. Amazon currently has 175 enormous fulfillment centers in operation– 150 million square feet of space. If present trends continue, these numbers will increase. Quickly.
A CURRENT-DAY OCTOPUS
The Octopus is a 1901 novel by Frank Norris describing a railroad monopoly which was ruthlessly putting anyone who stood in its way of expansion and growing profits out of business. Sound familiar? In the novel (based upon actual events) a group of ranchers– self-employed businessmen– are utterly destroyed by the unfeeling monolith.
The good news is that 1901 was a sort of peak for the railroad monsters. A fledgling technology created and pushed by upstart entrepreneurs soon enough displaced the older technology with a more flexible alternative: the automobile.
Which means that even Amazon can be competed with– but it will take new ideas. A variety of them. We’ve come up with some of our own.
HOW THE MONSTER OPERATES
Amazon achieved its monopoly status, beginning with books, based on two basic ideas.
1.) Offer more choices than anyone else– ultimately, to offer every book ever published.
2.) Offer the products at a lower price than anyone else. Lower than anyone could possibly match.
The result has been a boon for the compulsive reader, but damaging to publishers– and devastating to writers.
Because in these conditions it’s all but impossible for any new writer to stand out. For any single book to stand out.
At Barnes & Noble, the author was one out of 50,000. On Amazon, he’s one of millions.
Contrast this with a cultural entity at the beginning of its cycle. In the early days of hip-hop music in the late 70’s, how many prominent hip-hop recording artists were there? A handful?
Or take the rock n’ roll explosion in 1956. Again, fueled by a mere handful of stars who could create acceptable versions of the hybrid genre: Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, Little Richard, Elvis Presley– few others.
When the Beatles arrived in America in February 1964, they were the only British rock act in the vicinity, and stood out. Five years later, after every possible put-together group of mop-top Brits who could hold a guitar– in tune or not– had entered these shores, the value was not so much. It makes a huge difference if you’re one of one, or one of five– or one of 500,000.
In MFA programs across the U.S.A., students learn to craft fiction or poetry as well as– and indistinguishable from– that of ten thousand others. What, then, is the point?
THE GREAT LEVELLER
For books, Amazon has been like McDonald’s with hamburgers: The Great Leveller. Small-d democratic. Everyone can afford to eat hamburgers– and everyone now can afford to read any book. We’re all the same. In the process– with the commodification of the product– that product has been cheapened. Anyone now can read books but few are reading them. Books have lost their importance, their uniqueness, their value. They’re part of Amazon’s discount bin, rejects nobody wants.
DOING THE OPPOSITE
If Amazon’s strategy was to flood the market with books at rock-bottom prices, the antidote is to do the opposite, with a proviso.
Doing the opposite means offering a small number of authors, at a limited number of outlets. The proviso is the authors will need to have hyper-appealing personas– able to be “stars”– and the writing as well as the presentation will need to be notably different from anything else on offer. Attention-getting. The writing will need to be in a new style and genre, while the literary vehicles– books, if you will– will need to look like something other than a book. The literary upstart will need to offer–
THE SHOCK OF THE NEW
Which is why we put so much emphasis on innovation. Innovation of the art and the vehicle of the art.
A difficult task, with enormous potential payoff.
Our plan stands upon three basic ideas.
1.) Offer authentic artistic experience.
2.) Rebound away from the cheap.
3.) Make our products unique.
In his quest to corner the market on books, Jeff Bezos cheapened the contents of those volumes: literature. Instead of a valued expression of the highest sentiments and ideals of mankind, literature became a bargain basement commodity, sold at discounts or given away. A race to the bottom. Our mission is to restore value to the literary art. To accomplish that will mean revamping the art, the way it’s presented, packaged, and marketed. All will need to be opposite to Amazon’s glorified bargain-basement discount shop.
The printed analog products– which we call zeens– we’ve created so far, three in number, are templates for those to follow. In the three zeens we express a variety of artistic ideas, attempt numerous effects, some partially successful, others more so. What we’re learning with our artistic and literary experiments will pay dividends in the future– on the road toward creating truly amazing literary journals.
To see those experiments, click on ourPOP SHOP. You may choose to order one or more of them– then open them when they arrive and fully see what we’re about.
This round– Round Four– is scored by Michael Kealan Moore.
Information on the Reading Challenge is here.
The Big Question: What do you think?
“Two households, both alike in dignity.”
by Michael Kealan Moore
Gallup begins with thoughts and tones set by textual allusions and song lyrics—we are reminded of TV scripts, where, at times, writers rely heavily on the mood set by music; Netflix’s Pose for example. Jones’ Some Came Running brings a struggling writer and we lead into the mouth of “Just Another Silly Love Song” (JASLS) and enjoy the story of a slow to marry, air-cowboy. To say this is a “better reading experience” lays in the easily digested events, where the reader can immerse the self in the action and plot. The craft and construction is of professional stock as we go through the phases of the protagonist’s moves across a chessboard towards love and marriage. Joseph Campbell’s work comes to mind in both construction and characterization; Brown as the Mentor (also noted as “My mentor, General Brown”), the first date as “all is lost/dark night of the soul” etc. Further into the characters, they could be in any successful Film/TV romcom: blue-collar workers lookin’ for a better life, and love. The impact of JASLS shows us that it is not another silly love story but one with grace, action, adventure, grit, and American truth.
“Ghoul” is a beast of a narrative which injects us into Postmodern tropes. This text takes time to simmer and cook in the mind, which adds to its genius—readers left to hack away stone to discover the diamonds underneath. We are reminded of Jean Baudrillard’s realms of the hyperreal in Saunders’ words and world, the characters working in a cursed Disneyland of sorts; this may well be the 13th floor of hell—but it is not, it is a possible America where one cannot speak the truth at times, otherwise they are kicked to death by their friends and lovers. We can summarize in Baudrillard’s words that this is a “desert of the real itself”. Is this a “better reading experience”? I will say it is a difficult read where the wheels of cognition are forced into motion, but ultimately we reread to fully comprehend. The craft involved in this text is above normal and within its construction we the readers are brought information through dialogue, notes/letters, body language, and action itself; where all scraps make the greater absurd whole. On the characters, I found them well crafted in that they are submerged in their own phenomenological experience of the hell they exist in—we are of course kicked back to Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Man in The High Castle, and Brave New World; particularly the human “savages” living out of reach. On the first reading the impact is entirely contrary to a second reading, the first leaving us somewhat confused—the second impact is sobering.
Both Ghoul and JASLS outperform each other in their respective styles; we can imagine fans of Postmodernism swooning over George Saunders while one who appreciates contemporary American writing will find joy in Nick Gallup’s words.
Michael Kealan Moore holds a BA in Writing, English & Classics, an MA in Writing, and a number of qualifications in Psychoanalysis. He has worked in AI, Film/TV and Publishing for a number of years.
— ATTEMPTING TO ANSWER THE QUESTION: “WHICH STORY IS BETTER?”
We’ve been comparing two short stories. The first, “Ghoul,” is by renowned story writer George Saunders, author of the Booker Prize-winning novel Lincoln in The Bardo. (Bardo, not Beardo.) The second, “Just Another Silly Love Song,” was published by us and is by lesser known fictionist Nick Gallup.
Round Oneanalysis of the story was done by William Rushing.
Our newest review of the two stories is by Tom Ray—
by Tom Ray
“Just Another Silly Love Song” tells the story of the relationship between two individuals, Tyler and Roxie. “Ghoul” tells the story of a world divorced from our own reality, with the relationship between Brian and Amy being just one illustration of the relationship between individuals and society as a whole.
The characters in “Love Song” are realistic. We don’t know if Tyler loved his mother or if Roxie has daddy issues. However, thanks to narrator Tyler’s self-aware reflections as a mature man looking back, we know he was a typical late 20th-century man, obsessed with sex, concerned with proving his masculinity, yet not intimidated by a strong, intelligent woman like Roxie. As a woman of that era, Roxie is not afraid to show her independence, and will not define herself in terms of a male partner. On the other hand, she is attracted to a strong man who proves himself, as Tyler does, to be more than a macho stereotype.
The protagonist in “Ghoul” is also a young man. His reactions to events are how I imagine a young man in such a bizarre world would react, fearful of the consequences of breaking the authoritarian rules. All of the other characters, though, have no depth. They are cartoon characters put there to show how this crazy regime impacts Brian.
A lot of the humor in “Love Song” is self-deprecating, as the narrator recognizes his own foibles as a typical young man who got his life tips from reading Playboy. In “Ghoul” the narrator has no sense of humor, with unintended humor emerging in descriptions of the denizens of the underworld behaving like people working dull jobs in the real world.
Saunders is definitely the master in crafting this story. When Gallup’s story was first published in New Pop Lit I commented that he has a way of drawing the reader in. It was easy to draw me in like that, though, because the characters are realistic.
It was tougher for Saunders. I stuck with the tedious narrator, trying to figure out what the setting was. It seemed like a theme park, but as I read further it became obvious this was more sinister than that.
By the end of “Love Song” I was satisfied. The story is a little more sentimental than I usually care for, but it is light-hearted fun with wit. Toward the end of “Ghoul” I was able to say, “Oh, yeah, this is a metaphor; or is it an allegory, or a simile, or some other such thing that I stopped worrying about half a century ago in college English lit classes? Is it satire on life in the corporate world, or on religion? Who cares?” The corporate world sucks, we all know that, religion is bullshit, we’ve all heard that. “Ghoul” doesn’t say anything new on those subjects in an interesting way, and the tedium I felt in the first few pages returned in the last few. Not my cup of oolong.
Tom Ray is himself an accomplished, widely published short story writer. Among the stories he’s written for us is this one, “Service.”
ANOTHER writer-reader has generously weighed in with a comparison of the two short stories available for analysis as part of our current Reading Challenge. Michael Maiello graces us with his perspective, in a short essay titled–
Ghouls and Fools for Love
by Michael Maiello
When George Saunders hits The New Yorker, I PDF the stories and keep them in a desktop folder marked “literature.” I’m a fan, the same way I’ve been a fan of David Foster Wallace, Kurt Vonnegut and so many others who have that slightly “off” worldview. A Saunders story, for me, is a little event.
Every new Saunders story benefits from context. He writes frequently about people trapped in a warped capitalism — killing and dying and lying in the service of awful jobs and guided by Byzantine rules. In Ghoul, co-workers compete to rat each other out for procedural violations and when one person’s guilt is established, their fellow employees kick them to death. The system is so warped that you can turn somebody in for their failure to turn you in for your own crimes. Ghoul presents us with a heightened reality that will seem familiar to any American worker, particularly those of us who have dealt with duplicitous employers. Ghoul recalls other Sanders stories, particularly from CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Pastoralia. Soon, Saunders will release a book of essays about Russian short stories and I wonder if it will be Gogol who most interests him, or if he will surprise me with a fascination for a more naturalist Checkhov.
Ghoul is, for all its social commentary, a love story, perhaps in a dysfunctional vein of 1984. Just Another Silly Love Song by Nick Gallup is also a love story, set in a more recognizable society. With quick pace and heightened detail, Gallup brings us along for the rollicky ride of Tyler’s maturation. It’s not that he falls in love, though he does, it’s that falling in love remains a mystery to him even as we, accompanying him on the journey, get to see how Tyler achieves this by growing into a full person, able to think beyond his needs.
Whereas Saunders gives us oppressed losers who cannot overcome their circumstances, Gallup gives us hard-working people who can overcome themselves. The stories are so patently different in aim that I’ll punt on the question as to which is “better.”
In laying down its challenge for readers to review these two stories against each other, New Pop’s editors say they hold Gallup with the same esteem accorded to the widely celebrated Saunders. Cheers to that. We all know the artists who command the most attention are not necessarily the “best,” given the roles of luck and circumstance behind society’s discovery of any creative person. Those of us who think about these things, though we’re often counseled to try not to, can’t help but imagine that even so widely regarded a figure as Arthur Miller wrote “attention must be paid,” about himself as much as he wrote it for poor Willy Loman.
I salute New Pop Lit for asking the question, as it motivated me to read Gallup and I’m glad I did. I will even PDF his story and save it in that folder marked “literature,” right next to the Saunders.
Thanks much to Michael Maiello for his review– and to William Rushing for the prior review.
NOW— is anyone else ready to step into the ring and take the George Saunders versus Nick Gallup Reading Challenge? If so, let us know!