New Pop Lit Writers Combine Day One

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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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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Our NPL Combine Coverage Team

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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OUR EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE of the New Pop Lit Writers Combine begins soon. We have a first-rate team in place, both for conducting the exercises, and covering the event for the public.
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COMBINE DIRECTOR AND ASSISTANT DIRECTOR

Director of the Combine is Count Leo Tolstoy.

Tolstoy

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Count Tolstoy’s assistant is a sarcastic individual who was introduced to us simply as “Vladimir.”

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REPORTERS

Chief Analyst: Mel Diper @MelDiper.

Mel Kiper

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Commentator #1: Emily Dickinson.

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Commentator #2: Norman Mailer.

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To add authenticity to their coverage, both Ms. Dickinson and Mr. Mailer will be participating in all tests and drills with the other writers. Better than the Winter Olympics! Don’t miss a minute of it.

 

 

 

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.)

Salon Painters of the Lit Game

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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As we sketch in our brackets for the big tourney, we wonder what to do with award-winning literary personages of today such as Richard Price and Joyce Carol Oates. Both cover lower-class subjects, yet both are System writers through and through. Which means both write in the standard bourgeois word-clotted “literary” style that wins awards. (Both likely don’t think they do.)

We love populist writers (think Jack London) but believe the style of writing should fit the genre. Especially now, when literature needs to be as readable as possible to survive as a relevant art form.

The world moves on– yet Ms. Oates and Mr. Price write the way award-winning novelists wrote decades ago. Playing by the rules. No shortcuts found by these trapped animals! Here it comes– obsessively excessive detail so you learn the number of hairs in a character’s nose, and the variety of plants and brand-name of shoes in the room, and the patterns of wallpaper.

The first long introductory paragraph shows they still have it; they still can write– take that, young MFA students!– but the general reader is gone.

One wonders anyway what Joyce Carol Oates still recalls of working class life– she left it circa 1960. Especially from her Princeton ivory tower office. Princeton being the most isolated and bucolic of all isolated Ivy League ivory towers. So, the narrative is “imagined.” Which involves assuming the proper pretended “voice.” Ventriloquism, with puppets.

Keep those awards coming!

Oates and Price remain long shots to make the tourney brackets, unless someone convinces us otherwise.

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.)

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?

Appreciation #7

“Gene Wolfe” by Robin Wyatt Dunn

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ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

“Cry Wolfe”

Gene Wolfe, the old fat man, we’ll sing for him—though it be wrong.

How many men will write the etymology of their own name and admit what it makes them? (Wolfe did in his story “Wolfer”).

Gene Wolfe fought in the Korean War, helping the pedophiles who run the United States Government get little children to eat, and all it taught him was “you need to keep shooting.”

Still, he is one of our best writers. Like the Russian writers, who all come out of the Caucasus, feasting on human flesh, and ready to spill blood onto the page.

Though he is a conservative, honored by some of the most conservative bodies here in North America, the golden fascists of the Science Fiction Writers of America—shouldn’t he be honored more greatly, and given the same laurels as Barry Obama?

I love Gene Wolfe; I’ve written about my love for him before, in a piece for Black Heart Magazine, which they later deleted, without comment. I only said I wanted to kiss him on the mouth.

Our Wolfe is howling, and we cannot know why.

Though he began on territory similar to the alt-right “Sad Puppies,” his first novel (he admits himself) prenticework attacking liberals in government, he matured in his work to be one of the few American writers, as David Lynch is one of the few American filmmakers, to use surrealism in his mainstream narrative work, without a second thought, without irony, without compunction, to find the truth.

In his search for the truth, like Kurosawa, he was forced to use dreams. Unlike Kurosawa, there is a bloody spirit in Wolfe, always hunting fresh meat, wherever he may find it.

Today it strikes me that honoring writers is a very tedious business, but this is only because I am a writer longing for honor. Perhaps I should have been killing more children in Asia.

What does it mean that we have Wolfe? Grand Master of Science Fiction: ensconced! Ennobled! Beloved. And we do love him. So much.

Wolfe is not prepared for the end of America; he is sentimental. He shoveled the corpses into its maw, and in his fiction, like all great American writers, he examined the psyche of the psychopath, in Severian from The Urth of the New Sun, in Patera Silk (another child eater) of The Book of the Long Sun, and he also sought and found the little psychopath lurking inside all of us, only awaiting the right circumstances to bring it out.

Like Asimov, Wolfe is a humanist. Unlike Asimov, Wolfe understands how monstrous a thing that is.
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Robin Dunn’s last story for us was “Travelogue.” Find his books here.