Wednesday, December 06, 2017

About Instapoetry

Pictured: Poet Rupi Kaur

(I penned this to the same college student, this time in response to questions about the Instapoetry movement. Apparently he uses excerpts-- with attribution-- in a college newspaper.)

Change in any art is necessary to keep it fresh and alive. What's happening with the success of Rupi Kaur and others like her is a return to extreme simplicity in form, and to simple, basic emotion. To language's roots, in a sense. The poems are fresh and readable, and so are drawing readers to online poetry. The short, clear style is made for the digital age-- at least, as you imply, for these still-early days of the digital age. So, yes, Rupi Kaur is the face of poetry now. 

Can it last? I don't think so, unless it evolves. It's too simple, and will quickly become monotonous. What looks new and fresh today won't look so fresh a few years from now when it's been done over and over. And over, with little variety. Its utter simplicity leaves little room for variety. It's the kind of poetry (I won't call it verse; it's not verse) which anyone can write. Which means everyone will write it, and the world will be flooded with Rupi Kaur knockoffs until we're drowning in them and people cry out, "Enough!" Are Rupi Kaur and her colleagues talented enough to evolve their art? Or are they one-hit wonders who'll be writing and reciting the same tunes ten or twenty years from now? They have a penchant for promotion. That's obvious. Is that enough?

Their flaw is they use none of the effective tricks of poetry developed over centuries. Things like cadence, wordplay, the occasional (or not so occasional) rhyme. What some call euphony. Rupi Kaur stresses that her work draws on trauma and abuse. So did Sylvia Plath's. Plath's poems were extremely self-centered-- but they also used every tool in the poet's toolbox, which is why they've lasted-- why they're as strong now to read or listen to as when they were composed. 

The poetic art has fled from craft-- from the instinctive use of what some call craft-- since Plath's death, and much of the running away is from simple laziness. Academic poetry has put people to sleep for decades-- in part because it threw away rhyme and meter, elements of poetry which existed for a reason. Which existed because they helped the listener connect easily to the work-- aiding the mind in flowing into a work's rhythms and imagery. The best poetry expresses a joy in language itself-- which is why Shakespeare has lasted. It should be fun and exciting to recite. The work of the Instapoets is too simple to be fun and exciting to recite.

Still, what they're doing might be necessary to bring new people back to the art. The true innovators will be those who move strongly beyond Rupi Kaur and her peers-- who can build on the simplicity but give the new audiences the excitement of a more complex and passionate art. That's the trick. That's the task. That's the accomplishment to go after-- not to dismiss Instapoetry, but to surpass it. To top it at its own game by subtly and gently bringing back those long-scorned and forgotten tools of cadence and rhyme. Mixing them into the simple words and short works. Keeping the poems short but making them more powerful, more compressed. Creating poems which will simply engage the online reader-- but knock those readers out of their chairs with their power. That's what I'd like to see. If it can be imagined, it can be accomplished.

Karl Wenclas
Editor
New Pop Lit

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Answer to a Young Poet

(Answer to a series of questions sent to New Pop Lit.)

The best way for a poet to stand out is to write better poetry. Most of the poems which editors like ourselves receive are bad prose divided into lines. Poets forget that poetry is meant to be heard. Ideally, in our eyes, it should have a sense of music: pace, rhythm, and yes, the occasional rhyme. Off-beat rhyme. Unpredictable rhymes in the middle of a sentence. Plus other poetic tools like alliteration, of which too many poets seem never to have heard. The lost concept of euphony. That's what we look for-- poems meant to be read out loud, which are striking or moving or powerful when recited out loud. Which like a river or a hurricane build momentum and power and meaning with each stanza.

That there are a million poets out there struggling to be heard means the new poet needs to think beyond what's current and accepted. Create the new. Go past what other poets are doing. Any art is, or should be, in constant flux. Always changing. What the standard is now will not be the standard ten or twenty years from now. The key is to innovate. Think ahead of everyone else.

If you want to be the best, you have to know the best. The new poet should read the best poets-- the real best, of every variety. From Edgar Allan Poe to Emily Dickinson to Sylvia Plath. Ginsberg and Berryman, Maya Angelou and Dylan Thomas. Shakespeare, for the use of language, of course. Your brain will subconsciously synthesize all of it.

The new poet should attend and read at poetry open mics in the area. That's where the excitement in today's poetry world can be found. A lot of the performed poems will be hip-hop rhyming poems-- but not all of them. Besides, hip-hop is popular for a reason-- because it's easily remembered and makes an immediate connection with the audience. We believe future poetry will be a fusion of the street and academic styles. The best of both worlds.

A live audience in a hectic venue like a bar or coffee shop is the best way for a poet to test whether or not a poem makes a connection. Does it stir the audience in some way? Feedback is all. Reading with and against other poets is the best way to sharpen one's work.

We also suggest the new poet put together a simple zine or chapbook of his or her poems-- even if it's made on a copy machine. This gives the poet something to hand out at readings. Or sold, for as little as a buck. The idea being to use every available way to get the word out about yourself and your work.

Publishing in esteemed journals like Poetry magazine or The New Yorker is an opportunity open to very few. Online journals like ours provide an alternative. They can be found via listings like www.duotrope.com, or the literary magazine listings at www.pw.org. Or simply google "poetry magazines" or "literary magazines" or "poetry listings" and scores of addresses will come up.

To the new poet: Good luck!

Karl Wenclas
Editor
New Pop Lit

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Upon Reading. . . .

UPON READING A MARVEL COMICS BACKPACK ON A TEENAGER IN LINE IN FRONT OF ME AT A BUS STOP

marvel comics covers 

Depicted are fragments of covers from classic Marvel issues of the past—“Iron Man” “Thor”—etc. Noticeable is the amount of pure HYPE which went onto the issues:

“Iron Man Returns to Face TWO Super Villains” kind of thing.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created a massive media empire from nothing through extreme ballyhoo.

A reminder that I have to do some of that at New Pop Lit. Especially with the ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT, currently on brief hiatus at this blog.

Can we turn classic American writers into superheroes?
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Friday, May 19, 2017

A Tale of Two Editors

I had a brief impromptu twitter exchange yesterday with long-time publishing Insider Peter Ginna. The exchange emphasized to me the gulf which exists between those inside and outside the New York City lit-media bubble.

I mentioned to Ginna something I call the “Sholokhov-Solzhenitsyn Spectrum” of commitment to artistic integrity and freedom of speech. This, after he mentioned, in a positive way (he disputes this characterization), Simon & Schuster abandoning their commitment to publish free speech provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos after a flurry of protest by the established literary herd. I wondered where Mr. Ginna placed himself on that spectrum. Though he protested much that the “Big 5” combination of publishing conglomerates based in New York was “not a monolith,” he never answered my question.

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Not surprising, in that Peter Ginna and myself come from different universes. On the subject of literature we speak different languages. At an age when he was attending Harvard and Oxford, I was working in the industrial bowels of Detroit—not the best training ground for a literary person, one would think. But my experiences gave me a sense of how this civilization works, as I saw in marine terminals and railyards how raw material is poured into a city, then creatively turned into something meaningful. It was also while clerking nights in a railyard at the heart of Detroit, near the fiery Rouge river, for many months, that to pass the time between trains I read, and read, and read—as comprehensive a syllabus as one could find at Harvard. If not Oxford.

While Ginna was paying his dues inside the bureaucracies of Big Publishing, I was paying my dues in the indy “zine” scene, creating not through staffs and levels of bureaucrats, but by hand, a series of publications, which I wrote, proofread, designed, drew on, colored, packaged—then marketed and sold. Every aspect of literary creation. On a vastly smaller level than the “Big 5” of course, with a more concise, more enthusiastic audience. It was a smaller scale view of literature, no doubt. The difference, perhaps, between the first Henry Ford making in a backyard shed an automobile out of bicycle parts—and his grandson “Hank the Deuce” inheriting a gigantic many-layered enterprise, in which someone at his level is far removed from the factory floor. Within which every aspect of the creative process—engineers; designers; marketers; accountants—is isolated from the others.

The result? With publishing, I sensed from my exchange a continuing sense of casual complacency, fluctuating from condescension in the face of contrary ideas, to upright defensiveness.

Yet if an automobile company can’t afford to be complacent (witness the events of 2008), how less can an art? And yes, literature is a business SECOND. First, it’s an art.

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red shoes

I thought of this last night, when my girlfriend (and NPL co-editor) and I watched the end of the classic 1948 film “The Red Shoes,” then followed this by viewing a 1967 Soviet movie version of “Anna Karenina.” Or at least tried to watch the latter, because every aspect of the Soviet film was awful. Particularly the casting and acting. The plot and much of the dialogue were taken from Tolstoy, but it wasn’t enough to save the flick.

We were forced to ask, “What happened?”

After all, in “The Red Shoes” the Russian impresario, dancers, artists, are all portrayed as geniuses. (Indeed, the movie itself is an unparallleled work of genius.) Yet the creators of the Soviet version of a classic Tolstoy novel were obvious dullards—going through the motions of creating a classic work of art but, like wooden puppets, lacking human or artistic spark.

We see two causes.

1.) The Russian characters in “The Red Shoes” would have to be expatriates who fled their native land after the Bolsheviks took power. Looking at the Soviet film, one can infer that the 1917 revolution and Bolshevik consolidation of power chased out—or liquidated—all creative talent. The premise no doubt was that new talent would rise up after the ostensible “liberation” of the masses—but it didn’t happen. Maybe because those masses were never really liberated, only further enslaved.

2.) One can see the difference between art produced by a tight group of creative talent, and that produced by a gigantic top-heavy bureaucracy required to conform to politically correct standards as laid down by political commisars. A ballet company, as shown in “The Red Shoes,” is a tight group of talented individuals each retaining their individuality. But so was “The Archers,” the film company founded by Michael Powell and Emric Pressburger, the geniuses behind the film. They not only had immense creative ability themselves, but, as important, the ability to spot and enlist other hyper-talented individuals into their project. Whether an actual Russian expatriate in the person of Leonide Massine, or the best cinematographer maybe ever in Jack Cardiff (the colors drip off the screen), or the surreally-talented actor Anton Walbrook and amazing dancer (and amazingly beautiful) Moira Shearer. The film is a paean to beauty, and to Art with a capital A.

The Soviet film? Merely a dud. The argument—my argument—is that massive bureaucracy, if too massive, in the realm of art if not autos, produces mediocrity.

Those involved in the creation of art should ask for more. Much more.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Who’s the Best American Writer?

I HAVEN’T BEEN POSTING much as this blog, because I’ve been helping to set up New Pop Lit's upcoming big event, the All-Time American Writers Tournament. (Long-time readers may remember I started something similar once at another blog several years ago.)

Who’s your favorite American writer? Novelist, poet, playwright, historian, or story writer? All will be considered—but there are so many candidates to choose from that we need input. Feel free to add yours.

Suggestions or 200-word arguments for a particular candidate can be sent to newpoplitATgmail.com.

Or, comments can be added to NPL’s Interactive blog, where most of the action will occur. Progress reports will also be given at the main site’s home page, as well as at NPL’s News blog.

Hurry! Get your choices into the brackets.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Springsteen Paradox

NEWS ITEM: Rocker Bruce Springsteen seen on billionaire’s superyacht in Tahiti.

Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen has made a career out of being a self-appointed spokesman for the American working class. The wealthier he becomes, the harder he works on the part—as if prodded by a fear of being out of touch; losing his authenticity, his connection to reality. This is similar to certain trendy novelists (Stephen King; George Saunders; Mary Gaitskill; Joyce Carol Oates). The more they’re captives of the conglomerate publishing system, the more determined they are to prove their activist credentials. They “care.”

Once, the pop singer was a modestly-paid performer, putting on a tuxedo to perform in a nightclub. Today, Bruce Springsteen is a corporation unto himself, employing an army of musicians, agents, producers, accountants, roadies and bodyguards. When on tour, the show travels from city to city in a caravan of loaded tractor-trailers, like a Broadway production. Think Springsteen the Industry.

Picture Bruce by a swimming pool, wearing an expensive silk robe. He sighs. The people call. Time to do a concert. More millions of dollars to generate. He takes his costume from a walk-in closet larger than many homes. No tuxedo for the “Boss.” Instead, the grimy sweatband; the faded jeans and ripped t-shirt. The Bruce Springsteen Minstrel Show; adopting the garb of the dispossessed, like affluent author Barbara Ehrenreich putting on a waitress costume. It’s not Al Jolson on bended knee singing about “Mammy,” but in its own way it’s as distasteful.

The farther removed in time Springsteen becomes from his humbler days, the more with that humble lifestyle he becomes identified.

The liberal media love it! Writer for The Nation Eric Alterman has stated he’s seen over 200 Bruce Springsteen concerts. Tickets aren’t cheap. Alterman has spent a significant amount of money assuring himself that, like Bruce, he cares about downtrodden people. His message is ultimately the same as Springsteen’s. “I’m one of the good people.” In its modest way, The Nation is as much a part of celebrity culture as People magazine.

Is there safety to the Springsteen presentation, because of its lack of immediacy? Springsteen, after all, is not going to call for the confiscation of lavish estates. He’s not about to begin working in a gas station or a factory. Supporting him, indulging in his make-believe, is a harmless outlet which allows many of America’s most successful social-climbing individuals to enjoy their success yet clear their conscience and retain their self respect.

****

There are many variations of the Springsteen Paradox. Take a rock musician on the other end of the ideological spectrum, Ted Nugent. “The Nuge” could buy a chain of supermarkets loaded with steaks, yet, for all the world to hear and see, affirms his need to hunt game in the wild to feed his family. Man, life is a struggle for survival! (Just ask his accountant.)

Nugent collects ever more weapons and pumps more iron, training for war. In the Sixties, when Vietnam was a real possibility for him, his patriotic belligerency was, needless to say, significantly tamer.

It’s all about an instinctive need for authenticity. These performers sense their poses are fake. The more they suspect this, the harder they have to work to keep away the truth—from themselves.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Cultural Balkanization

FUSION OR FRAGMENTATION?

The cultural mandarins in New York City are pushing for cultural fragmentation. At least, that’s the impression given by New York Times Magazine’s recent March 12 “Music Issue.” All is identity. In the Introduction to the issue staff writer Nitsuh Abebe says this:

“In 2017, identity is the topic at the absolute center of our conversations about music.” (“Our” being individuals at the newspaper?) And: “For better or worse, it’s all identity now.”

Abebe discusses the 1950’s as the “last great gasp” of “ethnicities,” but his is a distortion of American musical history. What made the 1950’s noteworthy is the fusion which took place between various threads of roots music, becoming “rock n’ roll”—melding into the pop music of the day and displacing it. The most visible of the new artists, Elvis Presley, counted among his influences country, gospel, rhythmn and blues, and Italian-American crooners like Dean Martin. Presley’s movies would place him continually in Latin and Hawaiian settings, motifs from those cultures’ music appearing in his songs—which were often as not written by Jewish-American songwriters in the Tin Pan Alley tradition. Elvis even did knockoffs of operatic arias!: “It’s Now or Never,” and “Surrender.” In other words, everything was fair game.

Elvis placed songs in the #1 position on the three main charts; pop, r & b, and country; the first time this happened.

Not just Presley fused various styles into his presentation and art. Chuck Berry’s first hit, “Maybelline,” was a reworking of a country song. Further, Berry’s voice had a ringing quality to it that for the time sounded “white.”

The best example of conscious fusion in the music of the 1950’s and early 60’s comes with Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr., who crafted a sound he believed would appeal to everyone. R & B blended with pop form. Gordy marketed this as “The Sound of Young America”—and it was, as kids from all backgrounds bought the records.

Pop music then was truly and distinctively American, embracing the musical backgrounds of all Americans.

This seems a more unifying goal to have, than the fragmentations of now.

****

In the Times Music Issue we get not just identity, but obsession with identity. A good example from the issue is the essay by Jenny Zhang. Hers is not the positive outlook of a Berry Gordy, who believed anything could be accomplished—and then went and accomplished it. Zhang mentions the “ways in which white supremacy had warped each of us.” Yet she’s confused about fundamentals. In discussing DIY/punk music of the 1990’s, Zhang says “no one much questioned why a subculture that saw itself as rebelling against the establishment was quite so dominated by white men.”

But it was an economic and business rebellion (as was the print-zine movement of the same decade, which I was part of). A rebellion against monopoly and elitism. Against tops-down thinking, and the idea that all culture must come out of L.A. and New York. A business rebellion in the same way rock n’ roll, promoted by carny barkers and street hustlers like Colonel Tom Parker, Sam Phillips, Alan Freed, and Dick Clark, was. Hundreds of upstart storefront record companies like Sun Records took away half the market share of the “Big Four” record giants—an almost unprecedented business revolution (which led to pushback via Congressional “payola” hearings intended to bust the newcomers).

Most of the DIY “punks” of the 1980’s and 90’s were white men, sure. But let’s remember that at any time in American history, including now, a huge segment of the white male population lives in grinding poverty. For an example of this study the biography of Kurt Cobain, who through the popularity of his band Nirvana took subculture grunge music, originally recorded and promoted by small Northwest outfits like Sub Pop, into the cultural mainstream.

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What can be said finally about the Times Music Issue?

A.) Maybe that someone is pushing an agenda—agendas being pushed are generally in the interest of power or dollars. I opt for multinational conglomerates as the chief culprit, who today control most of the music business and whose focus isn’t on authentic American culture, but global profits.

B.) Also that when new cultural changes begin happening (see literature now) those well-schooled souls inhabiting Manhattan skyscrapers are often the last to know.

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(At New Pop Lit we believe in American literature—and will demonstrate this with our upcoming “All-Time American Writers Tournament.”)