Underground Hemingway

AN ADVENTURE IN NORTHERN MICHIGAN’S HEMINGWAY COUNTRY

DSC06869

(A moose at the Mitchell Street Pub in Petoskey.)

WHILE we were on our honeymoon two weeks ago, one of our more fascinating experiences was an underground tour conducted by a young woman who may or may not exist in reality. (A ghost?)

We were at the City Tavern Grill in the quaint town of Petoskey, both of us sitting at the bar, in a saloon which young Hem himself used to frequent. I was at the exact spot– second from the end– which Hemingway was said to like.

We must’ve seemed easy marks. Out of nowhere, a woman approached us and asked if we’d like a tour of the saloon, including its underground tunnels.

“Sure,” we said.

The woman was dressed like someone from another time period– the 1920’s, perhaps– with a feather in her hair and wearing a delicate retro black dress. In build she was tiny, as if from that bygone era when people were smaller than today. Her waist could not have been more than 20 inches around– Scarlett O’Hara territory.

Beyond this, she spoke in a dramatic manner, as if on a Victorian stage. She batted her eyelashes like a silent movie actress. When she walked, she shimmied like a flapper from the pages of a Scott Fitzgerald story.

DSC06872

The woman knew, somehow, by looking at us that we were Ernest Hemingway fans. She told us how often Hemingway frequented this spot– named The Annex in his time. The bar and its furnishings were the same. She showed us signed bills from Hemingway for food and drinks. The last one was from 1947.

This narrative was related in a secretive manner, as if she’d personally known the man.

Her name, she said, was Mary Ellen. She reminded us that in the time Ernest Hemingway first came here, Prohibition was in force. At any sign of police, observed through a peephole, booze and customers moved swiftly downstairs, to the basement.

Mary Ellen asked us cryptically if we’d like to visit the basement.

Without waiting for a response she turned and made her way down rickety stairs to the basement. We followed.

DSC06876

The basement was gray and dimly lit. Bannisters, walls, shelves of liquor bottles– everything– was covered in dust. Layers of dust, in some cases. We looked at each other with our eyes, asking ourselves, “Can we trust this woman?”

In the way she spoke and was dressed, she could have indeed stepped through a time warp. Or, could she be instead an escapee from– ?

We didn’t continue that thought because we didn’t want to continue it. Instead we stumbled along after Mary Ellen, through lengthy depths.

DSC06878

Mary Ellen showed us a number of blocked or partly-blocked tunnels, used both to smuggle bootleg liquor into the saloon, or out of it. One of the tunnels led to the nearby Perry Hotel, where we happened to be staying for the week.

DSC06877

The smuggled booze came from the Al Capone gang. From his base in Chicago, Capone controlled all liquor going into resort towns which spread north along the Lake Michigan shoreline, including this one.

The lights began flickering.

“The lights are going out!” Mary Ellen said dramatically.

Her eyes seemed truly afraid. Perhaps the time allotted for the private tour was over, or someone above needed her. Or perhaps she was about to turn into a pumpkin, or vanish, or appear her real age, or something. We were, after all, only days from Halloween.

DSC06859

We made it back up shaky wood stairs to the main floor, breathing, despite ourselves, a sigh of relief.

The tour was one of many highlights we encountered in the quaint town of Petoskey.

-K. and K.

DSC06885

*******

Advertisements

Poetry Cops: An Investigation

Crime_Scene_Do_Not_Cross-_tape_3612094774

FINDING THE RIGHT ANALOGY FOR TODAY’S CENSORS

WHO are the Poetry Cops? How do we best describe them?

We’ve already used the pod person analogy from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Close, but incomplete.  How about Programmed Robots? Blackballers use stock phrases and code words as if the phrases had been programmed into them.

robot

OR: Leninists?

Statue-of-Lenin-in-Nizhyn-Ukraine-wikimedia

SPEAKING of which, there’s this. A Poetry Cop?

Their biggest mistake? Calling her a lady.

“That’s no business, that’s social injustice.”
****

The “Mean Girls” analogy has already been put forward–

meangirls****

FINALLY, we come to the most accurate parallel: Carry Nation:

carrie_nation_1910

–and her acolytes:

prohibitionists

The cause may have changed, but the impulse remains the same: Stamp out bad behavior and the hint of untoward words, opinions and ideas wherever they’re found. BAN THEM!
*******

Beneath the silliness is a core truth. Freedom of expression is a value for the public-at-large. But for the artist, the writer, the musician, the poet, it’s VITAL. It’s everything.

Begin restricting language, the free expression of opinions and ideas, and you kill art.
****

“Poets in Name Only”

When you’re squealing and snitching and stoolin’ and lying,
when banning other writers takes up all of your time,

Hunting down opinions different from your own,
not thinking of the damage and destruction you have sown.

1200px-Edit_4x_rifle_scope

You’ve lost your credibility, poetical integrity.

You’d like another target, another carcass on your wall;
Kill ALL the other poets you’ll be the fairest of them all–
(you think)–
but the portrait in your closet says your cause is gonna stall.

1The-Picture-Of-Dorian-Gray_1945

We don’t want your duplicity, mendacious mediocrity.

It’s ego it’s ambition it’s politics it’s pose,
narcissistic bonfires of art is how you want to close.

1933-may-10-berlin-book-burning

Keep your hellish attitudes, your social justice platitudes. . . .

*******

-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Happy Hemingway Day!

YEP, another year has shot by and we’re again back celebrating one of our favorite authors, Ernest Hemingway. Maybe we just like his Michigan connection, an excuse for us sneak up to Hemingway country in Petoskey and environs. Away from urban civilization as we know it.

WE were there this May, encountering a Hemingway statue–

DSC06768

–and examining the pier in Harbor Springs where the boat from Chicago carrying the young Hemingway would dock–

DSC06745

–or staying in the exact same hotel in Petoskey that young Ernest Hemingway boarded at–

DSC06758

–drinking at taverns with trademark Hemingway atmosphere–

DSC06759

–reading Hemingway novels–

farewelltoarms

–then closing the day with a Petoskey Michigan sunset.

DSC06755

*******

Slate’s Junot Diaz Show Trial

MORE ON THE JUNOT DIAZ LIT-WORLD CONTROVERSY

junot-diazontrial

YOU THOUGHT the Junot Diaz Controversy was over when two of his three main accusers were discredited? When Boston Review and MIT kept Diaz on the job? We did. Think again.

CHARGING IN on her white horse to right the perceived wrong rode Slate’s Lili Loofbourow, with an essay which addressed everything but the specific accusations. This tells us something else is going on.
****

NOTE from the outset the way a photo of Junot Diaz is book-ended between two other accused harassers, Jeffrey Tambor and Bill Clinton. We’re in the realm not of objective reportage, but propaganda. (In case anyone misses Slate‘s analogy, Loofbourow throws in a fast mention of Donald Trump.)

WHAT is Loofbourow’s essay chiefly about?

The Slate essay is about what she calls “displays of contrition”; what accuser Zinzi Clemmons calls “the confession spectrum.” The problem isn’t that Junot Diaz didn’t apologize for crimes real and apocryphal in the 04/16/2018 New Yorker essay by him. It’s that he didn’t apologize enough.

show trial

We’re dealing with ritualized denunciations followed by a public confession– what was infamously known in totalitarian regimes of the last century as a show trial. It wasn’t enough, for instance, that accused harasser Bora Zivkovic later apologized personally to Monica Byrne for perceived sexual harassment, when he had discussed with her, in a private conversation between two adults, his sex life with his wife. He was required to be publicly denounced– with accompanying resignation of important positions and destruction of his reputation. Carcass nailed to a wall as warning.

Now it’s the turn of Junot Diaz. The in-house investigations of Diaz by Boston Review and MIT are irrelevant. That was never what this was about. His crime isn’t that he is or isn’t privately misogynist (though he might be, who knows?), but that he’s written about misogynists in his fiction, and has tried to understand such men.

Loofbourow looks for evidence against him not just in his New Yorker memoir, but in his book of short stories, This Is How You Lose Her. Which is curious, because according to Alyssa Rosenberg in a 10/4/2016 Opinion piece in the Washington Post about novelist Elena Ferrante, Lili Loofbourow came out strongly against attempts to identify a fictional character with the author.

Loofbourow said then in her tweets about Ferrante,

-She hacked the system. She made the WORK the point. She sidestepped every dumb reductive tendency we have by making herself unreachable.

-Did Ferrante *really* make all that up? Is she really that brilliant & META? Or is it just thinly-veiled MEMOIR? This last is key.

In her Slate article, Lili Loofbourow does exactly what she says one should not do– take fiction as “thinly-veiled MEMOIR.”

(Better had Junot Diaz done a J.D. Salinger– or Elena Ferrante– and made himself unreachable, rather than address the issue of misogyny head-on?)

***
A large part of Loofbourow’s argument against Diaz are portions of the New Yorker essay in which he discusses personal (i.e., private) relationships. If the skewed-by-emotion perspectives of ex-girlfriends or boyfriends become material for determining these issues, we’re all in trouble. Men and women both.
***

In examining the infamous Carmen Maria Machado recorded conversation with Junot Diaz at a literary event, Loofbourow says, “–we can learn something from the way Díaz talks about his manipulative characters–” Diaz’s crime in the exchange is insisting on his version of what he’s doing with his characters in his fiction. This very defense is used against him.

Throughout the Slate essay, Diaz’s assumed guilt is front and center:

–that you did heinous things, things you wouldn’t have done to people you truly respected as equals. 

Maybe you’re trying to figure out how to understand this moment without thinking of yourself as a monster, which you have never felt you were. Maybe you long for redemption and feel it’s no longer available.

How condescending! How assumptive.

By the end of the essay, Lili Loofbourow has reached her conclusion: “Everyone is guilty.”

Yep, everyone– but Junot Diaz is the person being targeted. Loofbourow again uses his own words against him:

The only way this thing that’s called patriarchy can be cured in me is collectively.

The hallmark of the show trial is that the person on trial agrees with his prosecutors and judges. The accused was revolutionary and correct in his attitude– just not revolutionary enough. See Nikolai Bukharin, Grigory Zinoviev, and other examples from the past.

bukharinzinoviev(Bukharin and Zinoviev caught in the spotlight.)

Lili Loofbourow’s gripe, you see, isn’t with Junot Diaz the individual, but with relations between men and women since the beginning of recorded time. Junot Diaz is merely the designated sacrificial victim.
****

NEXT: System versus Zeitgeist: The Larger Context.

Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News

 

 

 

 

 

Pop Writers

HYPER-TALENTS OF THE NEW LITERARY AGE PART IV

Rippl_The_Detective for essay

(Painting: “The Detective” by Jozsefs Rippl-Ronai.)

Why pop short story writers?

Because in the days of Jack London and O. Henry, the short story was THE popular American art form. Any renewal of literature starts there.

It’s begun!– particularly with various styles of “flash” or short short fiction, which puts an emphasis on brevity, clarity, and punch. But there’s no reason why entertaining and accessible stories can’t be longer, as they once were.

Recently we published a fairly long pop story by Norbert Kovacs, “The Fight,” which gives a hint at what’s possible.

***

We’ve published several writers who skirt the line between pop and pop lit, often through different twists on genre fiction. Among them is Ian Lahey, whose most recent story for us, from 2016, is “What I Don’t See.”

Ian Lahey

 

 

 

 

Ian uses a genre style and setting of agents conducting an interrogation to throw the reader off balance– making us see in the situation what we otherwise might not see.

***

However, the best pure pop story we’ve run to date is a new one by Alan Swyer, “Country Sweetheart.”

Alan Swyer photo one

What makes Swyer’s story work is its sense of humor, along with the affection Alan Swyer has for the characters and for the often-quirky world of country music. It’s an entertaining story about entertainers– and about other things like authenticity. Authentic art. The main character may in some ways be a fraud (to put it mildly!) but at the same time his feeling for the music, his colleagues, and his audience is thoroughly genuine. The suspense comes from the question of how long he’ll be able to get away with the imposture. Or, how will he be caught?

The tale is quintessentially American in a variety of ways. Not least of them is the theme of reinvention– that, contrary to what Scott Fitzgerald once said, there are second acts in American life. (Why people came here in the first place.) But also the story’s love for the land and people, combined with a sense of good old fashioned fun-loving ballyhoo. The American quality of finding yourself through being an entertainer. Entertaining through singing, or entertaining through storytelling.

Our interest here is in the latter. . . .

*******

Next up in this series: “Underground”

Hyper-Talents Part II

courbet-gustave-self-portrait

PORTRAITISTS: Part II of Hyper-Talents of the New Literary Age

We’re not into solipsistic convolutions of words, the postmodern linguistic games many status quo writers use to justify their funding and station. We prefer writing which is clear and direct, so that emotion and meaning hit the reader straight on, between the eyes.

We believe art is about meaning and emotion. We believe if done right, good writing can be appreciated by almost anyone. That’s where “pop” comes into the equation.

Many new writers are portrait painters. Their stories are usually short. Their words are brushstrokes, painting an image which enters the reader’s head.

These do not give you every last detail of the setting or experience. They’re impressionists, in which simplicity achieves a more intense version of reality. Less truly is more in their art. “Bang. Bang. Bang.” The tale is suddenly over. The reader is surprised. Moved. In some cases, devastated.

gaugin-self-portrait

Their work is the heritage of late-nineteenth century painters via literary interpreters like Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway– the past fifty years of postmodern game-playing passed over. To everyone’s relief, except French intellectuals and American professors needing tenure. But at least as great an influence as painting is American popular music, starting with rock and roll. The direct expression of emotion, culminating in the hyper-fast, hyper-simple expression of punk. Granted, most of the new writers don’t look like punks! We believe they’ve been subliminally influenced. (Sneering guitar-destroying DIY-focused Elvis Presley in the 1956 movie “Jailhouse Rock” has been said to have been the first punk.)

****

Who are the best of the literary portrait painters?

anne-leigh-parrish

Near or at the top has to be Anne Leigh Parrish. While Anne Leigh lauds lit-establishment story writers like Alice Munro, she doesn’t quite go in for the long sentences, the lengthy descriptions and paragraphs which characterize the typical New Yorker magazine writer. The John Updike model where the sentence is all. What for a more literary-minded critic might be a handicap, we see as a plus. A new story by Ms. Parrish shows what we’re talking about: “Picture This.”

The story sneaks up on you. It begins simply. It’s a nice little tale about a couple in Maine. An artist trying to “make it,” and the woman who supports him. Then, suddenly, bang, bang, bang, emotion kicks in. Simplicity has become art.

****

Another talented literary portrait painter is Sonia Christensen, whose second story for us, “Dry Bones,” was featured at our site a few weeks ago. As you can see from the story, Sonia similarly deals with relationships.

****

Among other literary portrait painters is our own Kathleen M. Crane, a Detroit-area writer recruited into this project as a result of her first short story with us, “Donnie Darko,” a short tale about a shelter cat. Could anything be simpler? Her follow-up story presented at our main site, “Sam,” about a young musician fighting addiction, characterizes our pop-lit ideas. Indeed, Kathleen has helped define our ideas, pushing New Pop Lit in a Hemingwayesque direction– daubs of style and sophistication added to a pop core.

dsc06527

I asked my consulting editor Kathleen how she writes her stories.

“I imagine I’m taking a visual snapshot of a moment or person in time. I use details, but not all details. Instead, the important details. One can get lost in too many details.” (This said with a deadpan expression but a wry glint in her eyes. Like her stories, her words carry a an underlying sense of humor which says the world can be cruel, but also absurd.) “I want my writing to be clear and concise.”

The Pop-Lit philosophy in a sentence.

We’ll present a new short fiction piece by K.M.C. in a few weeks to further illustrate our points and the kind of writing we look for– understanding that we want writers to outdo our own work. We’re mere literary travelers, seeking for stars and superstars.

****

New story writing today is characterized by a large wave of flash fiction writers– who by the nature of the form are required to get to the point! No long digressions. No endless descriptions. No attempts to display for academy profs the well-written sentence. They have only so many words to use. (Flash fiction can be as brief as six words. We generally look for stories that are a bit longer.)

We’ve published some of the best of the flash fiction writers, such as Ana Prundaru and Andrew Sacks. Two new flash fiction pieces we’ve accepted from Mr. Sacks exhibit the way flash fiction gets quickly in and out. Tells the story and closes down. Like a quick, cutting pop song. We’ll be presenting Andrew’s latest in a month or so. Please watch for them!

****

NEXT UP in our Overview of today’s new writers:

III. “The Lost?: A New Generation.”

IV. “Underground, Popsters, and Other Fronts.”

Or, much excitement to follow. Stay tuned.

-Karl Wenclas

(Self-portraits by Gustave Courbet and Paul Gaugin.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hyper-Talents of the New Literary Age

book-cover-rex-beach

Part I: STORYTELLERS

The foundation of American fiction from its beginning is the ability to tell a story. Ernest Hemingway referred to this ability when he announced that “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.”

 American literature as a unique art form began as an expression of stories told not in refined drawing rooms, but on whaling ships, on riverboats or trains; around prairie campfires or cracker barrel stores. The story– many told orally in regions without books (at best, with cheap pulp journals and dime novels). Certainly, from a time and place without televisions or smartphones.

In his novel The Virginian, Owen Wister celebrated American storytelling via an extended tall tale told by one of his characters. A tale within a tale. Another example is Mark Twain’s celebrated story, “The Celebrated Frog of Calaveras County.”

The main feature of this style of fiction is the narrative thread. The idea: To keep the listener listening. The reader reading.

This ability has extended through the history of American lit. From the Big Fish That Got Away stories of Herman Melville, to popular magazine stories like Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game.” From rugged populists like Jack London, Frank Norris, and Rex Beach, through William Faulkner with his gothic legends of the South; even, perhaps, to present-day page turners.

Through operating this modest but ambitious project, we’ve encountered two men whose work embodies the traditional ability to tell a story, while making that story relevant to what’s happening in the present-day world.

****

scott-cannon-photo-2

Our introduction to Scott Cannon‘s art was his long, eerie tale, “Lucid Dreamer,” which combines imagination with the possible, so that it has the feel of an unsettling story told in the woods. Or under a streetlamp at night on an urban streetcorner.

We have, as part of this series, a new story from Scott, with quite a different setting. “Yacht Party” exhibits the writer’s ability to have you see, through sharp description and economy of words, what his characters are experiencing. The best fiction doesn’t distract the reader with unwieldy linguistic fireworks. It puts the reader in the moment. With the plot having something to do with Iran, the story is eerily timely. (Scott sure is a fast writer!)

Check it out!
****

Another storytelling talent we’ve published multiple times is Tom Ray.

tom-ray-photo

As with Scott, Tom’s stories are often quite long. They depend upon hooking the reader at the outset.

Tom Ray’s best setting is Washington D.C., that playground of creepy politicians, oily lobbyists, and the staffers who keep the entire complex bureaucratic machine operating. Could any subject be more topical?!

Our most recent story from Tom, “Benjamin Franklin and the Witch of Endor,” gives us an experienced Insider look. Like Scott, Tom Ray seems to have begun seriously writing after establishing himself in another career, as if he built-up a reservoir of knowledge and stories inside his head waiting to break out.
****

Why do we open this series with two storytellers whose style is traditional?

Because American literature’s opportunity to renew itself depends upon a foundation of authentic American writing. A foundation upon which to build. To express American culture, one has to know American reality and American roots– and know writers whose style is an expression, consciously or not, of those roots. A continuation of a storytelling heritage, combined with the American landscape, which made our writers and writing unique.
****

NEXT: We look at “Portraitists.” Stay tuned!