On the surface, Etgar Keret’s stories aren’t so much stories as they are fabular anecdotes that unfold with the concision and wit of a fatally funny joke (many of the stories in his newest collection come in under two pages, many of them are as funny as they are bleak). What’s more, you might accuse Keret of gimmickry or occasionally preciousness—consider that there are stories in his latest collection, Suddenly, A Knock at the Door (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2012), in which an angel appears, a pet goldfish grants wishes, and an unrepentant killer is reincarnated as Winnie the Pooh (!)—but these recriminations miss much of the weird joy that Keret evokes here, and much of the sadness, too. These are finally stories about what it means to live in the world, to be compromised by it, and to be compromised by one’s own desires.
According to Kathleen Rooney’s expose, “Pimp My Poem,” you can find poetry whores in Chicago.
“You will enter a dim room appointed with fireplaces, silk tapestries, velvet banquettes, and damask wall hangings flecked with tiny mirrors and sequins. Every available surface will be either carved hardwood or plated with gold leaf. Because no self-respecting bordello would be caught without a piano player, there will be one, alternating his sets with DJs spinning the greatest hits of the 1890s and early 1900s.”
And, if you wear period–read: Victorian–clothing, you get in without having to pay the $10 cover.
But, once you’re in, you can buy a chip that will give you access to a one-on-one poetry reading from one of the “troupe of acclaimed poets who provide visitors with the most unique and intimate poetry experience available in Chicago. (from the Chicago Poetry Bordello website).”
Rooney argues that the Brothel provides a service that fills a niche and a need for the literocrats of today’s society. “The poem you get for five dollars at the Poetry Brothel is literally more dear than the dozens you get for zero dollars at a regular reading because most people do not actually believe the best things in life are free.”
Does a payment, dim lighting, a slight buzz, and a costumed tempter/ temptress reshape the way we value poetry? It’s an interesting question, and though the answer definitely is one of double entendre, the novelty and gumption of this tactic deserves wonder and admiration.
And…would you go, if you had the chance?
In his latest collection, Tenth of December (Random House), George Saunders pulls back on some of the outlandishness of his earlier stories, though not on his idiosyncratic approach to telling them, which combines the stylized fun-making of employing a debased American sociolect (rife with cliché, slogans and corporate double-speak) and Saunders’ greatest gift as a storyteller, namely his seemingly limitless capacity for empathy. What’s left is a collection of stories that begin as funny, weird little baubles only to unfold into deeply-moving narratives about its characters’ flailing imperfect attempts at happiness, humanity and redemption. In the best of these stories—”Tenth of December” (available for free at The New Yorker) and “Victory Lap”, which both feature awkward young boys suddenly faced with the impossible need for heroic action—Saunders will make you laugh and weep, sometimes all at once.
In a word: tender. That’s how we’d describe the stories in Chad Simpson‘s new collection, Tell Everyone I Said Hi (Iowa), the winner of the 2012 John Simmons Short Fiction Award. Yes, Simpson writes with deep tenderness for his characters—the disappointed, the lovelorn, the Midwestern—whether they’re flailing at impossible love or on the precipice of irrevocable acts, whether swamped in flooded basements or by dead-end jobs. These are beautiful, sad stories; read them.
We at TSHS have mentioned the international craze that is National Novel Writing Month (colloquially known as NaNoWriMo) as a potential writing utensil before. But let’s look at in a little more depth, shall we?
If you’re unfamiliar, every November, hundreds of thousands of aspiring novelists (and some established ones) buckle down for thirty days and try to generate 50,000 words of prose. Moreover, many of them are successful. As I write this, in fact, NaNoWriMo 2012 has already generated nearly 1.5 billion words. That’s a lot of typing, friends.
Of course, there are a number of ways to accomplish this lofty goal. If you’re more of a dogged, steady-wins-the-race kind of person, 1,667 words per day for thirty days will get you to 50,000. Prefer taking the weekend off? 2,273 words every week day = 50,000. Or maybe you can only write on the weekends. Writing 6,250 words every Saturday and Sunday yields 50,000, too.
Even with the breakdowns, does all this seem a little bit insane? Yes, of course! But we might ask ourselves: so? Arguably, NaNoWriMo is as much about setting and achieving goals as it is writing. And, as with any long endeavor, making it to the finish line feels pretty good. Even if your literary autobiographical novel devolved into a Hunger Games-esque dystopia with dragons . . . you still wrote a novel. Sure it’s lousy, but that’s the point of any first draft, isn’t it?
And if you’re wondering, many a NaNo champion has gone on to fame and fortune, including Erin Morgenstern of The Night Circus fame.
Are you participating in National Novel Writing Month? What’s your novel-writing strategy?
As the political fanfare expires, we can look to the poets to prepare for the inauguration. Although the tradition is not a staple of American politics (President Kennedy started the tradition with Robert Frost in 1961), we hope that our president, the poet will consider to uphold his decision to include poetry in his inauguration to a second term.
The history of the inaugural poet is spotty at best. After Kennedy’s initial selection of Robert Frost as the first inaugural poet, it wasn’t until nearly half a century later when Bill Clinton rekindled the poetry commission for his inauguration. He chose the iconic Maya Angelou, who swept the audience with her pathos and gravitas. For Clinton’s second term, he chose a lesser-known poet, Miller Williams (father to country singer, Lucinda Williams) in 1997. Then, it wasn’t until Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 that we witnessed another poet at the podium: Elizabeth Alexander. Her poem, “Praise Song for the Day” promised to unite with stark imagery:
Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,
picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.
We would love to see the inauguration poem become a true tradition of the United States. Whom might Obama choose in 2013? Whom would you like to see speaking in verse to the world?
Robert Frost, Although it was not what he planned to recite, due the sun’s glare and weather conditions, he recited “The Gift Outright” (1961):
Maya Angelou, “On the Pulse of the Morning” (1993):
Elizabeth Alexander, “Praise Song for the Day” (2009):
Today, we at the Tate Street High Society encourage our American friends to go vote!
After reading through 30 papers, it’s easy to get lost in the details. Thank goodness for these websites, which remind us how to really think about writing.
- Strong Bad’s attempt at ghostwriting an English paper
- McSweeney’s Stamps for Grading Freshman Composition Papers
Since August, every Friday, the Huffington Post has created a poetry based on an aggregation of the most recent headlines. The outcome is surprising and often hilarious and/or disturbing. Is it poetry? Is it madness? Is it just fun? Found Poet Juli Weiner on October 5th writes:
Scalia on “Sodomy”
Naomi Wolf’s Book Shows Women: Your Vagina Deserves a Riot
Lots of Sex
How Bad Is It to Crack Your Neck?
WATCH: 14 Centuries Later, Lady Snake Lord Emerges
Daryl Hannah Arrested
How To Unleash The Magnificent, Unstoppable Energy Inside You
Creed Singer: T.I. Saved My Life, Literally
That last line just kills us.
All of the poems were read and vetted by Tate Street High Society Members, and our final judge, Elly Bookman (winner of the Stanley Kunitz Prize at APR and graduate from the MFA program at UNC-Greensboro) deliberated over the finalists.
The first annual winner of the Tate Street Festival Flash Poetry Contest is….
Spencer Auten for his poem “On a Sidewalk in September”
Forrest D. Toms II
In our Humor Category, an honorable mention went to was Renee Leach with her couplet:
What a bad outfit choice
my legs are so moist.
Congratulations all! We are looking forward to having more contests and thank you for your wonderful work.