Guest Post, Sean Lovelace: Literary homage

The publishing vultures (or more likely turkey buzzards) are circling my apartment balcony, but why begin in such a sour mood? A mild, morning hangover, not so unlike the lingering ribbons of a common cold/sneeze (at least to my thinking), yet the coffee is hot and science has proven many, many cups of caffeine won’t actually kill you. Thank you, science, you national mutt/political football/current turd. But there goes a cloud in shape of portobello, a puffy suitcase or two, shreds of cotton…Then jump-cut, an actual squadron of honking Canada Geese, a lost and demented species, seemingly as comfortable in a Walmart parking lot (probably eating Cheetos) as in a glittering city pond or even a natural lowland marsh. Look, there goes one smoking a cigarette while perched atop a city bus. I wave, no response from the goose. Most likely they are human.

Two books arrive (people send me books constantly, a sweet curse) like roadkill in the mail, pungent but a bit vulgar: A Really Big Lunch: Meditations on Food and Life from the Roving Gourmand and Just Before Dark, Collected Nonfiction, both written by literary crow/mountain lion, Jim Harrison. Harrison died in the spring of 2016. Oh look, the spring of 2017 and two brand new publications. Editors of the post mortem. Ink stained vultures, New York hyenas, etcetera. So let’s not read them at all.

Instead, let’s discuss what I term, literary homage. An aside? No. Bear with me; just come along for a short yet hopefully fruitful ride through literary time and space. Consider this a metaphysical self-driving car, or maybe a horse (actually the first self-driving car, no?).

In 1925 Russian poet Sergei Yesenin is found dead at age 30, hanging by braided rope from a pipe in his hotel room. I purposely structured the sentence in this manner, hanging by braided rope. Was it a suicide? Who knows? Yesenin had recently pissed off the soviets in several ways (the details not so relevant here), and it’s very possible the government “silenced” him (much in the way a modern day critic of Vladimir Putin may awake one morning in London to a teacup of sugar and polonium-210). Yesenin’s final poem was found on a nearby desk, and written in his own blood:

Goodbye, my friend, goodbye
My love, you are in my heart.
It was preordained we should part
And be reunited by and by.

Goodbye: no handshake to endure.
Let’s have no sadness — furrowed brow.
There’s nothing new in dying now
Though living is no newer.

Let’s move to 1972 (as I mentioned, extra-stellar travel), to American writer, Jim Harrison, at age 35. He has a wife and a daughter and a literary career sinking into the mosquito bogs and chokeberry thickets outside his Upper Peninsula Michigan cabin. His poems and novellas are not finding publication (they will later; including Legends of the Fall). He’s broke and depressed. He’s drinking too much. But also obsessed with literature, currently of the Russian variety—Yesenin. So begins a correspondence in lyrical, confessional verse. Letters to Yesenin, notes to the dead poet, questions about poetry and depression and suicide and life…these missives published in 1973 by Sumac Press and republished by Copper Canyon Press in 2007 and still in print (like all of Harrison’s books, before and after Yesenin).

Time and Space, Space and Time—now to 2006. Return to Michigan, Grand Rapids…a southern boy stands shivering on a bridge above the Grand River. What are these frosty humpbacked boulders below, these jagged cracked platters of ice…these copper steelhead shards holding in the current, occasional smudge of trout? This alien confetti snow now swirling down about his red nose? Where is his family? His friends? Solitary meals in low-slung bars. Drinking silty beer (Michigan is truly a land of serious beers). Studio apartment the size of a van, more an aquarium, fourteen windows, some sort of exhibition case in some rarely visited museum…cracks in the panes. I am lost and in Michigan and teaching at Grand Valley University and stumbling upon extinguished night seas of an odd city and slippery ice and cobblestoned mind, I mean to say the moon, dark side…but one lonely evening I walked down the hill and into the city library and Jim Harrison discovered me in my illness and gave me courage to move forward, yes, to survive.

Spring, 2016: Jim Harrison suffers a fatal cardiac arrest. His body found in his Arizona home, on the Navajo rug below his desk. He died while writing a poem (this sounds apocryphal, but fact-checked). Harrison’s death affected me greatly, more than I would have thought or believed. And my response was to write him letters, in the spirit of his transmissions to Sergei Yesenin. Time and Space…they began with just one, a sort of goodbye. And thank you. Then another and another and today I continue writing in this literary respect:

Example here.

And here.

And here.

I will assume most readers of this site are writers or dancers or artists of some questionable shade/hue. Here is a concept that may excite you, or lead you to your next endeavor, or simply an idea to ponder, your own passing cloud to name and shape. Literary Homage.

  • First, select your artist. The one you mind-meld with; your totem, your token, your one-of-a-kind coffee mug, your favorite beer. Boom-boom! Thrill! Sex, love, religion, or death. Crushed Dexedrine or cute puppy or fast car or that time you made out with a Goth kid in the funhouse at the state fair. The one that made your heart pound, feet float down the golden boulevard, Kafka’s axes for the frozen sea within us, etcetera.
  • Read hard and vividly. Read seriously your artist. Over and again. I’ve read Letters to Yesenin maybe 50 times (and counting). Then dove into Harrison’s Selected and New Poems and The Shape of the Journey, the many novellas (that cad, Brown Dog), Sundog and Dalva and Farmer and Wolf, Harrison’s memoir, and his excellent book of food writing, The Raw and the Cooked.
  • Can you take it further? Yes, you probably can. Interviews, obituaries, various studies and source material. Letters. For me, I’m on leave from my job in the fall and will be repeatedly visiting (once again) Grand Rapids, Michigan, to dive deep into the Jim Harrison archives. You’re doing this sort of research correctly once the artist haunts your tangled dreams.
  • Another level? Personally, once I decided this would be an entire literary homage undertaking, I knew at once it would be essential to immerse (I know “immersion” is hyperbolic, but it’s the best word I can find) myself within the very life of Harrison. I suggest you do the same with your particular author. If selecting Simone de Beauvoir, date a philosopher, smoke cloves, and join a clandestine Resistance. If Haruki Murakami, collect vinyl and run long distances while hoarding cats. If Ikkyu, visit local brothels in your Buddhist robes. And so on. For me, this was simple. Harrison was a devout daily walker; I’m a devout distance runner. I already hunt and fish. I can read a river eddy or a neap tide, can differentiate a pirouetting dove from a flushed quail. Yes, I can skin a buck and run a trot line, etcetera. As for sensuality, I avoid strip clubs (one of Harrison’s obsessions), but—like Harrison—if I am offered a sexual opportunity, I usually take it. Love of drink? I’m basically an alcoholic. Occasional soft drugs? Why not? One thing does elude me—Harrison was a true gourmand, while I usually eat nachos. So this took some adjustment. I increased greatly my input of garlic (and still do). I bought olive oil and wooden spoons. And to kick off the project, I ate a Harrison dinner, an ordeal that dealt with multiple shipped packages of frozen flora and fauna and definitely sent my bank account into the suck-hole, but these things we suffer for art. The dinner was oysters, snails, a braised lamb shank (on a bed of eggplant, green and red peppers, scallions, a pinch of lemon zest, and a couple heads of garlic), fresh pork sausage made by the local Mennonites, a venison round steak, two strawberry Pop-Tarts, salt-cod chowder with a wedge of cornbread, pea soup, five fried mourning dove, breaded asparagus, a plate of Greek olives and basket of onion rolls, Baked Lays potato chips, macaroni salad from the nearby deli, sliced apples, and two bottles of a pretty decent Cabernet (Oliver winery, right up the Indiana corn-lined road). Followed by a shot of white rum for grit and a sleeve of Girl Scout thin mint cookies. For Harrison, this would of course have been only a light lunch.
  • Lastly, and the most important lesson for a writer during this literary homage is to understand form=function. My letters actually nod to Harrison’s technique, as Harrison’s own letters to Yesenin gave respect to that poet’s content and style. Letters to Yesenin are political (Yesenin writes about the soviets; Harrison rails against Nixon) and this gave me permission to write more about this country’s political climate, something I’d generally avoided. Harrison’s letters are chock full of literary references and so are mine, my brain being relatively well-read, since books are actually a necessary aspect of my job. Authors were weaved within. Finally, I noted Harrison’s wonderfully varied sentences, on a level I hadn’t seen since Annie Dillard. Harrison crafts sentences, prods them, twists and jerks them, smells and yells them, jolts them, songs them, unearths them…I tried to do the same.

I suppose that’s enough, a blog traditionally a flavor of compression/brevity. Initially planned on leading us through several examples of literary homage, from worthy Chinese poets (Tu Fu to Li Pai to Chu Shu-chen) to a lovely act of reverence by contemporary poet Bruce Smith to the epic (and epically attractive) Edna St Vincent Millay, who herself homages to Shakespeare… (I have a profound literary crush on Millay, if you didn’t know [and I don’t know why you would]). But way leads onto way, as Frost told us. At any rate, the NFL draft is tonight (upon this writing), a form of Christmas for any true fan. I have my plans. To sauté three cloves of minced garlic (slowly, slowly, let the herb express itself…), add black beans and rice, crumble in venison burger, and hit it all with Dave’s ghost pepper sauce. Skull-kicker, but in a good way. Serve with rotel dip (rotel and melted Velveeta) and tortilla chips. A shot of herradura and several bottles of Pacifico (one of Harrison’s favorite beers). Okay then. That should do.

Guest Post, Sean Lovelace: To An End

aconfederacyofnachos

Photo by Bradley Werner, courtesy of http://nachosny.com

TO AN END:

…11 minutes later I walk out of the office, shaking the test results like a fistful of musty bills I’d won playing Go Fish off Ignatius J. Reilly (or some such literary hero) in a tight, rightful, terrible wager (terrible in that a loss would have been profound—no new disc golf discs off EBay this month, no new flash anthologies [such as this one!], the dog without chow, the kid’s frog [actually a fire-bellied toad {but what is genre?}] without crickets, even cheaper wine, possible shortages in frozen waffles, other such calamities) and I yelled out, “That’s it! That’s it! I will no longer eat walnuts! No walnuts unshelled or shelled! No toasty! No crunch! No easy, natural, toasty crunch! No walnuts, no walnuts, no walnuts! I’ve had it!”

(Note: In writing, you should use approximately three exclamation marks your entire life. Rule broken.)

“But you’re supposed to be eating walnuts,” she says, flatly as a credit card. “They said to add walnuts to your diet. Walnuts are the king of nuts.”

(Actually, that’s almondsbut pick your battles, pick your battles…And anyway her blue eyes are like a ceiling fan: stylish, highly effective, often spinning, with some potential ability to maim.)

I go outside, to the shed, grab a small hatchet and thunk the apple tree repeatedly, with no real effect on the apple tree (the gnarled bastard—it produces thousands of apples a year. Is that good? No. I have to deal with thousands of apples a year, hauling them out in a wheelbarrow [yes, it’s red, Carlos Williams], swatting off yellow jackets, listening all evening to the marsh rats slither up from the creek, across my back lawn, below the apple tree, munching on apples under the moon…How does a man sleep!? But I do digress.), but with real effect on my mood, a slight simmering down of the emotions, this thunking. I replace the hatchet on its handy bent nail, calm and reenter the house.

movie.jph

Photo courtesy of http://www.openculture.com

(Note: In writing, it’s best to balance your creative, mental work with a physical activity. Haruki Murakami enjoys a refreshing jog, for example. Lydia Davis dabbles in archery, an activity as precise as her sentences. Tennessee Williams swam every morning. Simone de Beauvoir liked to shoot rifles with her eyes closed, while Jean Paul Sartre looked on, regally, very much in the pose of a douche bag. O. Henry—in-between crafting his many stories—spent time as a shepherd, ranch hand, cook, baby-sitter, bank embezzler, and drunk. So: physical exercise is significant.)

I’m going back to nachos, I tell her.

Hail Ignacio!

Hail Rocha!

Hail Bradley Werner! (A man who makes amazing book covers featuring nachos.)

Hail Howard Cosell!

Hail Prince Fielder!

I tell her. (And when I say, tell, I mean I’m braying like a wildebeest.)

She ignores me, as is her manner.

Photo by Bradley Werner, courtesy of http://nachosny.com/2013/07/nacho-book-covers-hitchhikers-guide-great-gatsby/

Photo by Bradley Werner, courtesy of http://nachosny.com

Feelings bruised, I make a Cuban variation on traditional nachos (dollop of Swiss cheese, one jalapeno per chip, a smattering of black beans). Munch them. Take that last tortilla chip, hold it in the air and light to admire its structural integrity, and scream out, “Let the festivities begin!”

Then I swallow the last nacho chip and place my nacho bowl (carefully, I have a specific rotation of three handmade ceramic bowls of the upmost craftsmanship) in the sink, to rest in its cradle of bubbly bath.

That’s one way to end nachos.

Shall we discuss flash fiction, several finishing moves?

Like with relationships or dinner or spontaneous trips to the casino, some things are easier to begin than to end. Sometimes an idea forms, a flash fiction draft spirals out—click/click/click, your fingers dance like marionettes—and then you realize you’re running out of words, and you need to end. So.

THE CYCLICAL:

As a current Hoosier, I’d like you to recall that Breakfast of Champions opens with Kilgore Trout walking the streets of Midland, and ends with Kilgore Trout walking the streets of Midland. Everything in-between is satirical filler. Let’s examine Four Hard Facts by Damian Dressick, a devastating meditation of grief:

Note how it opens in a bar and ends in a bar. (Also note how appropriate the segmented form [episodic, like memory, like questioning], the use of second person (draws us into the theme), the effective use of objects [steak sauce is powerful here, its banality], the threads [water], but do primarily focus on the ending, cyclical.)

To end, look to the beginning. Check out “How He Felt” by Amelia Gray.

Billboard

Plane/song/sermon

Billboard.

Another flash technique might be what I’d call THE TWIST. Here, the last line is the core significance, a turn, not so unlike a sonnet volta, or O. Henry back in the day, but always remember this is flash, compression—make your turn hard and quick, a slap, a jab (or a legal summons—but I digress again), walking that keen line voiced so well by Flannery O’Connor, “Endings should be simultaneously surprising and inevitable.”

(She also said, “Everywhere I go, I’m asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.” But that’s another blog post altogether…)

See “Dog” by Kyle Minor. (Note repetition, rhythm, couched within the minimalist.)

thenachosofhuckfinn

Photo by Bradley Werner, courtesy of http://nachosny.com

I once got drunk with Minor at an epic literary cave of a bar in Muncie, IN, and Minor argued for long form literature—Great Expectations and Huckleberry Finn and Pride and Prejudice and whatnot—while I argued for short form, Palm-of-the-Hand Stories and Oh Baby and all those wonderful Latin American microficciones and whatnot and then here I go months later just surfing the hip flash mags for what’s fresh and see Kyle Minor flash fictions popping up the literary web and so I’m assuming mind changed, genre accepted, I’m assuming I won that argument and I so rarely win any argument, you know, I mean you should see my Tuesday mornings, my Sunday evening audio—splish and krunch and hiss and boom!—you should see my, my…what are you saying? What do you mean what am I doing? I’m writing a blog post. You did what? Threw all my books where? On the roof! Why? Are you drunk? Just a minute…Lord, I have to…what!?…Jesus…Yep, my books are on the roof. She threw my books on the roof. My Baudelaire and my Diane Williams, my Ultimate Nachos and my Jayne Anne Phillips [“Good one-page fictions have a spiral construction: the words circle out from a dense, packed core, and the spiral moves through the words, past the boundary of the page,” Phillips says. “Fast, precise, over. The one-page fiction should hang in the air of the mind like an image made of smoke.”], and my, even my sweet and lovely Suttree, even my Douglas Adams…And it’s raining.)

See “Bounty” by Dave Eggers. (Note how one line, the TWIST, transports the piece, from every day to philosophical.)

THE BOUNTY

In her kitchen, she saw many things she would like to eat. On the counter, there was a bunch of new bananas, yellow as a Van Gogh chair, and two apples, pristine. The cabinet was open and she saw a box of crackers, a new box of cereal, a tube of curved chips. She felt overwhelmed, seeing all of the food there, that it was all hers. And there was more in the refrigerator! There were juices, half a melon, a dozen bagels, salmon, a steak, yogurt in a dozen colors. It would take her a week to eat all of this food. She does not deserve this, she thought. It really isn’t fair, she thought. You’re correct, God said, and then struck dead 65,000 Malaysians.

All my favorite techniques, I steal from poets.

(Note: If you seriously want to write flash fictions, seriously steal from poets.)

Example, the FADEOUT, end on the visual, the sensory poem, the image…(I actually took this technique from my childhood in the 1980’s. See there was this channel called MTV and they played something called music videos [I know, I know, this sounds impossible] and these music videos would often end with a FADE OUT, a drifting off image, to fog, to gray, a dissolve, poetry really…)

Swimming naked butterfly

Night’s thick scent of peach blossoms

Dead bees

Photo by Bradley Werner, courtesy of http://nachosny.com

 

And a baseball player, with priorities intact…

(https://youtu.be/7uaMsJztm9I)

Hail Fielder!

Hail nachos!

Hail flash fiction!

Hail stepladders! (Hail stepladders?)

Yes, yes, now please excuse me. As I’ve intimated, things must end, even this blog post. Go eat nachos and please do write something, something flash, all the way to the finish. Me? I need to go get my books.

Guest Blog Post, Sean Lovelace: Why Flash Fiction is Like and Unlike Nachos

Like:
I enjoy afternoons sprawling out on my roof (toasty shingles at my back) while drinking a six pack of beer and reading flash fiction. I’ll bring several books, collections, anthologies. Usually I haul them up in an orange bucket. A bucket is an excellent bookcase, when reading on your roof. As I drink, the pages flutter and unspool along with my synapses. Crackle, caterwhomp, hum. Words and bubbles rising in glass elevators. The mind, the mind’s eye, two dragonflies on the chimney edge, mating. I’ll start with a realist, Kim Chinquee (North America’s Queen of Flash), wander over to the imaginative minimalism of Ana Maria Shua (South America’s Queen of Flash), onto Bruce Holland Rogers’s expressionism, then into stranger territories, Magical Realism (the terrific Amelia Gray), and, finally—clink, fzzzzzz—I’ll crack open the final beer, watch a V of geese overhead as they honk in all their glorious goose-ness, and then the last book of the day (the sun kneeling out like an exhausted llama), all the way sideways, yes into the wonderfully absurd, the madman of flash, Danill Kharms. I likewise enjoy beer while eating nachos, usually Dos Equis in an icy mug the size of my forehead.

kim nachos

Unlike:
Nachos were invented in 1943. They are a contemporary genre. Many flashcists (denigrators of the flash genre)—in a reductive attempt to link the genre’s sensibilities with the ephemeral ether of the Internet—claim flash fiction is also contemporary. They attempt to minimize the genre to bits of media, basically dash-offs and lollygags for our “modern attention span” These critics know not of what they speak. They are jackals chasing their own tails in miserable circles. They smell like scabby knees or lower math. They are wrong. Flash fiction is a proud and venerable genre, eons old. Fables, folklore, parables, mythology, all flash fiction. From Nubian creation myths (6000 B.C.) to Chinese Pangu (350 B.C.), to the wellspring of more modern authors (though still hundreds of years old), miniature stories have always been essential to human life and art.

Like:
Flash fiction can be consumed as an appetizer or a meal. Same with nachos.

Unlike:
Nachos go from hand to mouth to stomach. Flash, by its very essence, goes much further, off the page. All of the glorious white space that surrounds a flash—everything that isn’t shown, paradoxically leading to an even further telling. The writer brings technique, all of the tools to create a breathing genre, a living thing. The reader has to arrive! To flesh out the context, to meet the writer, to shake hands and bang heads. To create together. Flash is collaborative, like all of the finest imaginative endeavors.

nachos 3

Like:
Though invented in Mexico, nachos are international. Irish nachos are a ponderous dish based upon potato wedges. Italian nachos utilize mozzarella cheese and banana peppers. Greek nachos are best eaten alongside the sea (or at least in the bathtub) and consist of pita, hummus, and feta. Japanese nachos (Machi Cure), a light and delicate treat, use juniper berries and tuna. American ballpark nachos are a combination of tortilla chips and Ricos, a cheese product that resembles a polymer used in the construction of lava lamps. Flash fiction is also international. Nobel Laureate Yasunari Kawabata felt the essence of his life’s work was contained in his flash collection, Palm-of-the-Hand Stories. The French are prolific, both in the prose poem, the flash, and the hybrid. See Paris Spleen by Baudelaire. See Ponge or Jacobs. See Bertrand. From Italy, I suggest Calvino. From Austria, Peter Altenberg (a man who wore flip flops all winter). From Russia, many choices, but I suggest Before Sunrise, by Zoschenko. The Pearl Jacket and Other Stories is a good place to start for contemporary Chinese flash fiction. Oh, and the Latin Americans. Mexico to Chile, I wish you luck. Why? Because the Latin Americans adore flash fiction. They call them microficciones. From Shua to Cortázar to Gracián to Dario to Bolaño to Arreola to Monterrosso to Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez (hell of a name) to Borges (his powerful shadow cast over everything), you could be reading Latin American flash authors for the rest of your life. Which wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Unlike:
Celebrities rarely read anything, much less flash fiction. (A notable exception is actor/scholar/ writer/scholar/actor/scholar/director/scholar/scholar/artist/scholar James Franco, who will read and write anything [and he’ll be sure to tell you about it, probably in an over earnest poem] ). Celebrities can’t get enough of nachos. They eat nachos. They sleep with nachos. They are nachos.

Justin Bieber

Like:
To make nachos you usually need a knife. To make flash fiction, you usually need a knife. It’s the DELETE key.

Unlike:
One time, during dinner, this young lady ran off with my heart and my Camry and I dropped her plate of homemade nachos (cold, uneaten) on the floor and drank two bottles of red wine and everything (I do mean everything) shattered and I stumbled outside (the wind raw, like an onion or a tax audit) and shook my fist angrily at the moon and screamed out an unraveling stream of spittle and obscenities and later woke up completely naked on the kitchen floor. This hasn’t happened in my life with flash fiction. Yet.

Like:
There is no limit on the ways to make nachos. I should know. I personally have made over 414 different varieties. Same for flash. Real to surreal, lyrical to narrative, traditional to experimental, any form, any style, any technique, mode, method, way. Flash fiction is as endless and unique as art itself.

Unlike:
A fully realized flash fiction takes inspiration, intellect, execution, and meticulous care in revision. You can make a decent plate of nachos while drunk.

jay-beyonce

Like:
Obsession. I once ate nachos for 141 day straight. I just had nachos (spicy crawfish over blue tortillas, with a painful dollop of Dave’s sauce) for lunch. My last two books were written in the flash fiction genre. (My upcoming manuscript is flash and is about Velveeta.) I spent last year reading only flash fiction. I teach university classes dedicated to only flash fiction. I have a flash fiction blog. On that blog, I also discuss other things. For example, what I am having for dinner. Usually nachos.