New Pop Lit Writers Combine Day One

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

cabins
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A bus pulled up at the gate to the training camp. Exiting were thirty-some American writers, most of them not yet selected to the big tourney and wanting to prove their qualifications. Joining them were a handful of the already selected– Ernest Hemingway most prominently; he of the famous grin– out to have a good time but also confident they could prove themselves in any field; against any assortment of literary competition.

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Also among the group were our two correspondents, Emily Dickinson and Norman Mailer, the first already in the big event, the other desiring very much to be in it.

Jonathan Franzen, one of the last to step off the bus, blinked at the piercing sunlight.

franzen
(Jonathan Franzen.)
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Awaiting the group were the Combine’s Director and Assistant Director. Count Leo Tolstoy wore a brown cassock, with an enormous Orthodox cross hung around his neck. Dark-browed, bearded, and tall, with Slavic features, he was a formidable-looking man, with formidable-looking eyes.

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(Kramskoy portrait of Tolstoy.)
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His shorter assistant, Vladimir, appeared equally Russian, but was fairer in hair and complexion, and stockier. More akin to a blond bulldog. He wore white shorts and a white t-shirt. Around his neck was a whistle. Facially he resembled a particular Russian president.

They scrutinized the American writers with curiosity and some scorn. Neither of them was easily impressed. Their attitude toward the Combine was, “You’re here to impress us. Show us what you can do.”

The writers, awaiting instructions, broke into small groups. Ernest Hemingway stood with his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald, who he’d convinced to sign up for this.

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“It’ll be easy to stand out in this crowd, Scott,” Ernest assured his friend while speaking out of the side of his mouth. “The others are mugs.”

Hemingway carried a football under one arm while shadowboxing with imaginary opponents, hoping the Coach (he saw the Count as a coach) would notice. Hemingway paused and slapped Scott on the back, almost knocking him down.

“You will not need that,” Vladimir said to Hemingway.

“What?” the writer asked.

“That!” Vladimir said, pointing to the football, which Hemingway quickly placed on the ground.

Next to Hemingway, Scott looked delicate. Terrified but determined. The perpetual scrub team player eager to make good. His blue eyes considered. He was not without talent. Whether it would impress the formidable count/coach as well as the scouts and analysts was another matter.

“Line up, please,” Vladimir instructed, blowing his whistle twice.

Count Leo stepped from behind his assistant. He perused the lot of them, black eyes considering. Tiny Emily, scrawny Mary Gaitskill and Joyce Carol Oates, and unimpressively short Truman Capote, Scott Fitzgerald and Norman Mailer, among others, were almost beneath his notice. They didn’t look like great writers. “Clerks,” he muttered in Russian. To his mind it’d be a task to coach them up.

450px-Joyce_carol_oates_8333(Joyce Carol Oates.)
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Two in the crowd appeared to have potential– Hemingway, who he’d heard much about, and another tall writer, Franzen, who’d been advertised to the Count as “The American Tolstoy.” Leo observed the transparent arrogance of both men and thought, “Good.”

The Count murmured in Russian. Vladimir translated in a loud voice.

“Count Leo has your submitted manuscripts. He will assess them before deciding your testing regimen. We are here to evaluate your suitability to be presented to the world as great writers.”

Much sarcastic emphasis on the word “great,” as if only Russians could truly be great at the art. It was a voice of authority. Vladimir told the group to stow their gear in their cabins. They were to reassemble at the nearby training ground in precisely one hour. He blew the whistle sharply, twice, to show he meant what he said. The writers scattered.

Hem serious
(Ernest Hemingway.)
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(Next: “Combine Day One” continued.)

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News at NPL Combine!

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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WE’RE PLEASED TO ANNOUNCE that we’ve signed a distinguished author to run our official New Pop Lit Tournament Writers Combine. An eminently big name with every qualification– Count Leo Tolstoy himself! He’s vowed to put all “decadent” American writers through their paces to discover which of them are, in his estimation, the genuine article.

The Count has told us he desires that every possible candidate for the Tournament be required to go through his battery of tests– including those already selected. In our discussions with him he said something to the effect that “They need it!” Then later the Count muttered to himself, “Can’t wait to get that fat braggart with the short sentences in there!” As the Count has a thick Russian accent, we may have heard some of that wrong. We have no idea to whom he was referring.

We’re busy setting up the camp and practice facility which will be used for the Combine. Stay tuned for more news– only here, as our exclusive Tournament coverage continues.

Writers Tournament Combine!

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ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT 

WE NOTE the National Football League will soon commence their “Combine” used to evaluate new talent.

We at New Pop Lit have decided to conduct our own writing combine, examining renowned American writers past and present to ask the question: “Who’s good enough?” Who’s good enough to be included in the tournament’s remaining brackets?

Our crack commentators, @MelDiper, Norman Mailer, and Emily Dickinson will be back with us, covering this event AT the tournament venue as we winnow the field. Might be fun.

(We might announce the #8 seeds bracket first.)

Stay tuned.
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(Dartmouth photo.)

Appreciation #8

“Frank Kuenstler” by Richard Kostelanetz

(From the forthcoming third edition of the Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes.)

Kuenstler

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

In 1964, from the imprint of Film Culture, a New York publisher noted for its film magazine of the same title, appeared Lens, a book so extraordinary that it was completely unnoticed at the time. It opens with a single-page “Emblem,” a sort of preface that establishes in six sections that anything might happen in the following pages, including the destruction of both sense and syntax. The last section of “Emblem” reads: “aura.Dictionary, aura.Crossword Puzzle, aura.Skeleton. aura.Poem./Once upon a time.” What follows are eighty long paragraphs so devoid of connection, from line to line, from word to word, that you realize only a human being could have made them; even the most aleatory computer program would have put together, even inadvertently, two words that made sense. The book concludes with the tag “New York, N. Y., 1952–64,” suggesting that Lens took a full dozen years to write; I can believe it, because anyone who thinks such writing easy to do should try it sometime (and send me the results). Kuenstler’s later publications include 13 1/2 Poems (1984), which is a progression of increasingly experimental poems (though none as radical as Lens). Toward the end of his life he sold antiquarian books on the street in New York, usually on Broadway north of 86th Street. To no surprise perhaps, his name rarely, if ever, appears in histories of American literature.

copyright 2018 Richard Kostelanetz
http://richardkostelanetz.com/

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(Photo from a collage by Ira Cohen.)

Writers Tournament: #7 Seeds

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

StephenCrane1899

(Stephen Crane.)
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Our latest entrants into the big event:

A.)  Stephen Crane.

For pure writing talent, few American writers match the author of The Red Badge of Courage, “The Open Boat,” and other classics. Decades before Hemingway, Crane saw writing visually, like a painting. His works are expressionist explosions of color and emotion.

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(Art: “Evening Sun” by Otto Dix.)

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B.)  Carl Sandburg.

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Sandburg’s poetry reflected his home base of Chicago: rough-hewn, proletarian, and real. A voice of the Great Depression of the Thirties. An American cultural giant in the Fifties. Thoroughly populist, his clear-but-strong poems were accessible to everyone.

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C.)  J.D. Salinger.

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He’s most widely known for his assigned-in-high school study of adolescence, Catcher in the Rye. But his best work is Nine Stories— nine well-crafted modernist gems of fiction synthesizing those twin pillars of American literature, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. One of the jewels contains the best short story title ever: “For Esme with Love and Squalor.”

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D.)  Kenneth Rexroth.

A forerunner of, and large influence on, the Beats, this San Francisco poet’s uncompromising work was more accomplished. Would Ginsberg’s “Howl” have been possible without the example of Rexroth’s powerful masterpiece, “Thou Shalt Not Kill”?

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Possible Play-In Games

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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THE LONG hiatus the tournament has been on because of the holidays is due to end. The trick will be getting all the nominated writers back. Where has Hemingway gone, for instance? Hunting lions in Africa again? Is Jack London back in the Yukon? Has reclusive Emily Dickinson returned to self-imposed exile?
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Our #8 seeds will soon be announced– which will bring us to the halfway point in selecting writers for the tournament. (We need to pick up that pace!) We can already tell that many outstanding writers won’t make the cut– so we’re considering play-in matches as a way to expand the 64 spots.

Some proposed matches between similar writers as a way to winnow the pack:

Katherine Anne Porter versus Flannery O’Connor.

Thomas Wolfe versus Erskine Caldwell.

Mickey Spillane versus James Ellroy.

James Harrison versus Chuck Palahniuk?

Should any of these writers make the cut? Which more stand out?

Battle of the Divas

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

-Barra-sontag

Camille Paglia

WE PLAN to include at least one “public intellectual” (emphasis on the public) in the Tournament. In one of the next two (7th or 8th) brackets. That is, a writer known primarily for opinions about literature and culture. A critic– but more.

The two leading candidates for the spot are both women– Susan Sontag and Camille Paglia. Which one belongs?

Or should someone else take that slot?

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