F. Scott Fitzgerald as Pop Writer

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

Scott pensive

According to Ernest Hemingway‘s testimony in A Moveable Feast, Scott Fitzgerald claimed to intentionally alter the ending of his short stories to make them more saleable. More palatable to Saturday Evening Post readers.

Yet when one reads Fitzgerald’s “pop” tales, their endings are as perfect, as apt, as artful, as those of his more highly-regarded works.

This is especially true of the “Basil and Josephine” stories, most of which are compact gems full of insight, beauty, and meaning.

Examine these two endings, each of which is a culmination of theme and plot:

from “Basil and Cleopatra”

“Jubal the impossible came up with an air of possession, and Basil’s heart went bobbing off around the ballroom in a pink silk dress. Lost again in a fog of indecision, he walked out on the veranda. There was a flurry of premature snow in the air and the stars looked cold. Staring up at them he saw that they were his stars as always– symbols of ambition, struggle and glory. The wind blew through them, trumpeting that high white note for which he always listened, and the thin-blown clouds, stripped for battle, passed in review. The scene was of an unparalleled brightness and magnificence, and only the practiced eye of the commander saw that one star was no longer there.”

from “A Snobbish Story”

“Then she caught her breath as the lights changed, the music quickened and at the head of the steps, Travis de Coppet in white-satin football suit swung into the spotlight a shimmering blonde in a dress of autumn leaves. It was Madelaine Danby, and it was the role Josephine would have played. With the warm rain of intimate applause, Josephine decided something: That any value she might have was in the immediate, shimmering present– and thus thinking, she threw in her lot with the rich and powerful of this world forever.”

(Hardly throwaway endings! Note: Both reflect disillusion and disappointment, and so are not exactly “happy.”)

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F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “pop” stories are as sophisticated as his more famous works. In a few cases, more so.

What makes them important to the editors at New Pop Lit?

Fitzgerald’s pop stories point the way, more than his “serious” work, toward where literature needs to go NOW in 2017. Readability, humor, sparkle, punch– presented in unpretentious fashion available to all. The short story as lively as a pop song.

(As I’ve pointed out often, the short story was once THE popular American art form.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s pop stories are soaked in verve and style. A writer falling back on his past, consumed in memory and insight, not trying to overawe literary critics but simply writing. Letting his magical talent flow. They’re also very well written.

While today a Fitzgerald classic like “Babylon Revisited” seems a tad maudlin and contrived– the saloon Irishman crying in his beer at closing time– the pop tales are fun and very real.
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FYI: With even the Hemingway-Fitzgerald experts unable to come up with the solution to our Trivia Question (we contacted a few of them), we’ll be giving and explaining the answer soon. Did we overreach? You’ll have to judge for yourself.

 

Appreciation #2

“Nelson Algren” by Joseph S. Pete

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

nelson algren 3

Nelson Algren loathed the film adaptation of “The Man with the Golden Arm,” refusing to be photographed by a marquee of a movie he “had nothing to do with” and saying Frank Sinatra’s take on down-on-his-luck vet Frankie Machine made it look like he was trying to recover from a cold instead of quit morphine.

But it landed the Detroit-born Chicagoan a windfall he used to buy a beach cottage in the Miller neighborhood of nearby Gary, Indiana. One winter, he bought a six-pack from a package store and took a popular shortcut across an iced-over lagoon, but the ice cracked and gave way, plunging him into frigid water. Though delirious, he warned rescuers not to venture onto the brittle ice and instead throw a rope to drag him out.

Algren was always like that, empathetic.

His compassion was why he was known as “the bard of the down-and-outer.” Some think he developed a fondness for life’s castaways and woebegone losers after he was jailed for five months in Texas for stealing a typewriter during the Great Depression. They blamed his stubborn attachment to the squalid underbelly of outsiders and sinners for his waning stature, even after he won a National Book Award for Fiction, saying he remained fixated on the downtrodden while society started to view the world in a more optimistic light.

Maybe Algren cared too much. Nobody wrote as well about addicts, the poor, the hustlers, the wretched refuse just trying to get by.
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Joseph S. Pete is an award-winning journalist, an Iraq War veteran and a Baconfest Chicago Poet Laureate who’s been widely published in journals like Lumpen, the Blue Collar Review, Stoneboat and Prairie Winds.

Format and Criteria

nfl draft board

FORMAT FOR THE ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

There will be sixteen seeds, sixty-four writers altogether. A writer will have to be good simply to make the tournament. Brackets will be set up, starting with four #1 seeds, then the #2 seeds, and so on. Then, the writers begin squaring off mano a mano. We hope to enlist volunteers to choose between, say, Henry James or Allen Ginsberg. The winner moves on. This continues until we have an overall winner.

BRACKETS

We had to decide if the brackets will be arbitrary, or split up between, say, regions, or using other classifications, such as a Poetry bracket, Playwright bracket, and so on. We decided against the latter, simply because the history of American literature has been dominated by the novel. It would be unfair to leave out novelists who’ve had a huge impact on the civilization and culture in favor of poets or playwrights who’ve had little impact at all. Is this fair? No. But the best poets and playwrights will be represented. We’ll also listen to, and post, all arguments pro and con.

CRITERIA

What places a writer above another? We’ve sketched out what we believe are the main points, but welcome more.

A.) Influence/Importance/Relevance. Meaning: impact on America and the world. Not simply on the literary art, but on culture itself. Has the writer’s work become part of the culture?

B.) Popularity. Not the main point, but a major point.

C.) Persona. The writer’s persona is part of the writer’s impact. We refuse to take the narrow view of writers that, say, New York editors take, where the work is assessed in a vacuum. Literature has thrived in this crazy country when the main writers have been larger than life. Their very presence has promoted the vibrancy of the literary art.

D.) Critical Standing. This means, the quality of the work itself. Has the body of work stood the test of time? Is it considered world class? Are significant ideas expressed in the work? Great themes relevant to people anywhere? Does it have impact beyond the historians and critics? Does the person’s writing convey energy or emotion and create excitement for the literary art?

E.) American. Is the writer and the work authentically, recognizably, quintessentially American? Is he or she representative of the land, this nation, and the nation’s voice? To some extent, writers should be of their place and time.

The writer’s mastery of form, and of various forms, can be considered as well. The forms include Novels, Poetry, Plays, Short Stories, Essays, and Criticism.

What are we leaving out?

About Tournament Seedings

THE ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

donnatartt

(Pictured: Donna Tartt.)

With only 64 slots to fill, the question isn’t so much who to include, but who gets shortchanged. Genre writers? Playwrights? Poets? Populists? Postmodernists? Writers of color? White males? Early American writers of whom few Americans today have ever heard?

Some writers or category of writers inevitably will get screwed.

Going in, we’re open to all. We’re not academics. We feel no loyalty to a mysterious “canon.” What interests us most are American writers AS writers: individuals; personalities. Talents and personas. We seek to choose those writers who, based on their works and their biographies, can best engage general readers and the greater American public. (If such thing be possible.)

Which writers “on the bubble” should make the cut?

O. Henry? Pearl Buck? Thornton Wilder? Philip K. Dick? John Updike? John Dos Passos? Harper Lee? Langston Hughes?

Which accomplished writers guaranteed entry should be seeded highest?

Walt Whitman? Toni Morrison? Herman Melville? Saul Bellow?

What do we do with Bob Dylan?!

WE WANT ARGUMENTS!

We seek justifications and arguments. We’ll accept no griping after-the-fact, but we will post all arguments and complaints while the seedings are made, and during the tournament itself.

We’ll be allowing ourselves a one-week grace period, after each particular seed is announced, to change our mind.

If you have a favorite– or most hated– American writer, make a case for or against that person, one word to 250, and we’ll post it here.

American culture, who’s recognized by it, is determined in part by lobbying. Noise making. We hope to hear some!

(Contact us at newpoplit AT gmail.com.)

 

 

Fun Pop Poetry #25

church-for-story

“Hallelujah Trail” by David Lohrey

People brag about the religious experiences.
They feel something, they tell us,
When they’re taking a crap. But
They won’t go to church.

Baseball, they say, is a kind of religion.
They are believers. Some are truer
Than others; they tell us that, too.
Why can’t they just use the toilet?

Others like to fornicate in the pews.
They’re in search of religion, they
Tell us. They don’t find it when
Praying, but they are true believers.
Call them devout. Their theatre
Is the Broadway musical. The priest:
Al Jolson. Last year: Bette Midler.
Now: Lady Gaga.

They’re gamblers. They don’t like
Religion, they tell us. Spirituality,
Yes, that. They’re very spiritual,
Especially when their stocks
Are rising. They’re very spiritual
But they love money.

They don’t like the institution. They
Like to sleep around, too. They’re
Against marriage, but they’re
Into true love. They prefer it free
Since it’s so valuable. If they
Can’t have it, they’ll take it.
They’ll give it away, often
To the highest bidder.
This generation of malcontents and
Rebels will say anything to feel better.
They’d learn to play the xylophone if they
Could play stoned. They’re stumbling
Through grad school and got low marks
In 3rd grade. They’re catching up
Now but never studied Latin.

They walk around with their
Mouths hanging open.
They complain a lot, especially
When their coffee isn’t hot.
They pride themselves on their
Needs. When they’re passed over
At the audition, they storm out,
Cursing. They’ll never sing again.

They threaten now to take
Their grievances to the street.
It’s high noon. The kids without a future
Hope to be noticed. The entire world
Is like Schwab’s Drug Store.
Maybe they’ll be seen crying at
The counter and be cast as
Zombies in next year’s
Blockbuster. They have lots of
Experience. They can play the part.
All they have to do is look
Vacant.

 

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(Send your provocative and/or fun poetry to funpoppoetry@gmail.com.)

Fun Pop Poetry #21

 

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“The Ballad of King Bozo” by Blixa BelGrande

King Bozo, once trusted toy revered
Now lies suffering with severed ear
Bozo feeling like Van Gogh
“I don’t think I can take much more”

King Bozo’s batted down the hall
He doesn’t like this new game at all
Bozo thrown up towards the ceiling
In his legs he’s lost all feeling.

King Bozo slips into depression
“Why am I this cat’s obsession?”
Bozo fears he’ll go insane
If he’s tossed down the stairs again.

“…but is it possible to go insane–
if all I have is stuffing for brains?”
and is it possible to feel injustice
if my body is made of sawdust?”

“Bozo! You’re looking pretty rough!
I’ll put you in the basket with the other stuff.
Little Malcolm deserves a new toy.
After all, he’s been a good boy.”

King Bozo breathes a sigh of relief
As he’s deposited on the heap
Of tired toys, forgotten muses
Come to rest,
forget abuses.

dsc06490
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(Submit your pop poems to funpoppoetry@gmail.com.)

Fun Pop Poetry #20

cat-photo-from-scott-cannon

“O Man” by Pepper (as told to Scott Cannon)

O man, o man
Worship me
Bask in the ring-tailed glory
Of my gray tabbiness!

Knead the warmth
Back into my winterporch-chilled batman ears
And I will knead the pit of your arm
As I ninny like a kitten
With my face upon your breast
I make my bed of you
O Man!

Your hands cup my triangle head
And gently squeeze
Your thumbs push back my ears
And you laugh at the funny face you made of me
You pull my tail
But my purr is a motorboat
And my brain is an avocado seed
And I will have my way

You call me by many names
But I do not come when you call
Your names are but sounds of me
Who have no name
For I am the I am
With but one name for you
O man!

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(Send your fun pop poem to funpoppoetry@gmail.com.)