hankrules2011

A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Posts Tagged ‘language constructs’

On Thomas Ligotti’s Book, Death Poems

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 7, 2022

Death PoemsDeath Poems by Thomas Ligotti
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m disappointed because I had been told I would love this book, I guess because I’ve had some “horror poetry” books published over the years. Mebbe so, but I’ve had far more books of poetry in other forms published. It’s simple, and I kind of feel this largely applies to this author’s entire canon — I like the themes, tone, morbid world view (much of which I tend to share), but that doesn’t make this guy a good writer and for god’s sake, I doubt anything could save this train wreck of so-called poems that don’t suck because they are formal or because they’re confessional or populist or postmodern or experimental or anything. He’s just a really bad poet! And honestly there’s no shame in that. It’s irritated the shit out of me to see and hear more and more people over the past couple of decades excitedly telling everyone they write poetry. At this point in time, EVERYONE thinks they’re a poet, and damn good at that. Trouble is that’s bullshit and always has been! Just because you throw together a few lines, maybe even self-publish a small volume of verse, doesn’t make you a fucking poet! I cringe every time I have to go to a wedding or funeral cause I know I’ll hear the worst kind of crap written by sincere, well meaning people. And they’ll get applause. From an audience that doesn’t realize the stuff they grew up reading and studying 50 years ago is so obsolete and a part of the distant past, they don’t realize they’re both showing themselves to be amateurs and a bit ignorant. Not that one has to be on the cutting edge. Many mainstream poets I can’t stand are still GOOD at their craft. Many populist poets, spurned by the Academy, like Bukowski, despite the image he fostered, knew how to write a poem and good ones. He knew the literary and poetic “rules” AND he knew how and when to bend or break them and pull it off effortlessly. Here’s a very famous American writer nearly everyone in the world has heard of and who has millions of fans (including me). Could tell a mean story, had real talent and influence. Most people can name more than one of his novels. But how many people know the titles of Jack Kerouac’s books of poetry? Right, no one. And I have them all. The fact is, no matter how famous or successful a writer he was, he was by god one of the absolute worst published poets of the past century! Wretched shit! Just cause you think you know poetry or you put lines down or a couple of people make flattering comments doesn’t mean you’re a real poet and certainly doesn’t mean you’re GOOD (using Kerouac as an example). People object and argue It’s subjective, and there is a bit of truth to that, but that’s not limited to poetry. That’s the argument made and the difference between the hard sciences and the soft or social sciences. You could make a legitimate argument that not only are poetry and literature subjective, but so are philosophy, religion, the arts, social studies, etc. But that’s why some general guidelines exist in each of these areas. That’s why you will study Hegel, Sartre, and Schopenhauer in philosophy but if you innocently (and ignorantly) ask virtually any philosopher or philosophy professor why we don’t study Ayn Rand, you typically get one of two reactions: side splitting laughter lasting uncomfortably too long or a hostile lecture about what a lightweight dittobrain brain she was, a “faux” intellectual whose “school” of philosophy she created is viewed as little different from how L Ron Hubbard is generally viewed. And they’re right about her. And just to prove I don’t have an anti-Rand bias, I was devastated when I found that one of my favorite writers and philosophers, a damn Nobel winner, ALSO typically isn’t included in Philosophy syllabi or viewed as a “real” philosopher — Camus! And I’ve long thought he was one of the three greatest existential philosophers in history, a view not shared by the “pros.” See, there are guidelines that can be employed that AREN’T necessarily in black and white, thus allowing a Donald Hall and Mark Strand to co-exist with Bukowski and Ferlinghetti as “legit” poets — even if that doesn’t always sit well with them. So Ligotti? I’ve gone on too long now and am tired, but it doesn’t matter if your language is formal, informal, experimental, etc. It still has to flow, to “sound” good on the page. If formal, what fits into the rules of rhyme, meter, stanzas, etc., must sound as natural as possible, must flow, not draw attention to itself and detract from the overall poem because it feels and seems forced. And while it’s harder to argue for rule adherence in free verse, just that one topic still applies. The language should actually seem and sound MORE natural, normal, flow comfortably, even in the case of surrealists or LANGUAGE poets. Because they know what they’re doing, what rules they’re intentionally breaking and why they MAY be successful at it. Ligotti’s poetry is made up of lines, words choices, a stilted dictation and lack of flow; it distracts from any point or message he may or may not be attempting to convey. It’s amateurish, buffoonish. It sounds like someone’s illiterate grandpa might. Fans may protest and argue “That’s the point, you dolt! He’s TRYING to make people uncomfortable with his poetry and his writing style, word choices, grammar usages, etc., are all part of that. How stupid are you?” (Meaning me.) Well, a rebuttal that’s I think many would agree with is been there, done that. It’s not remotely original but is definitely legitimate. I’ve done that myself with a number of poems and short stories when I was experimenting with postmodern metafiction. But while legit, just because someone may attempt to do that doesn’t mean they succeed or are any good. Which is the case here. I’ll end by throwing out a few names of authors who did exactly that, but SUCCESSFULLY, and are well known and loved by many (though still rarely in academia). One considered one of the best was William Burroughs, starting with his infamous Naked Lunch and most of his work thereafter. He and a partner are credited with popularizing and honing the “cut up method” to create almost meaningless text but still text one could get something out of. Ironically he was not the first, as Tristan Tzara and the Dadaist movement actually created and generated that technique. In the horror genre, there are fiction writers and the occasional poet who venture there (and also not “straight” horror, but more like dark surrealism that can incorporate horror elements). In no particular order, some who come to mind might include Anthony Burgess, who was SO linguistically experimental in his shock novel A Clockwork Orange that he had to spend an ungodly amount of time inventing a new damn language to fit the characters and the book (complete with glossary at back). Obviously Vonnegut, but some more current writers in the field who may occasionally succeed where Ligotti does not might include Boston, Crawford, Wayne AS, and most obvious of all, the late Harlan Ellison. I’m not saying this author has to be or become them. But he’d be well advised to do what most serious, professional writers do, and that’s study and analyze them to see where and how he/one can grow and improve, with your own voice intact ultimately. But until Ligotti shows evidence he’s done that, or from little I know of him, even gives a shit, I’ll continue to feel generous in giving 2 stars to this book and he’ll forever be relegated to the barely knowns, the wannabes, the amateurs who some think know what they are doing when such writers really don’t. Not recommended.

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EXITS

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 15, 2021

While I have been a professional writer for 35+ years & while I’ve been heavily published in print & later the Internet & while my work has appeared online in a number of formats & genres, I have never — to the best of my memory — personally posted any of my creative writing & certainly never any fiction. Until now. Why now? No clue. I just always liked this piece I wrote over two decades ago & a couple of editors did too, resulting in a decent paycheck that beat the hell out of poetry or academic publishing!

I’ve largely been invested in postmodern work throughout my life, whether literature, art, theory, etc., & at this particular time in my life, I was engrossed in a certain sub-genre of postmodern literature called metafiction — most likely a fad, but some good, well known authors were known for that type of work, such as Martin Amis. Additionally, it influenced other forms of writing, so many in the poetry field who write or study L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry may attribute its movement & success to metafiction’s influence. Or not.

In any event, I spent a number of years engrossed in this & related movements while also being force fed (pompous) postmodern (faddish) theorists such as Foucault, Lyotard, Barthes, Lacan, Kristeva, Jameson & of course Derrida (We can thank Derrida for deconstruction, its overuse in grad schools & misuse among the media & general population.) Postmodern LIT was different for me though, at least some of it as opposed to the nearly exclusively French theorists (I can’t being myself to use the word “philosophers,” & some were other “professionals” as well, such as Lacan, etc.). (An aside on these pompous blowhards. I thought they were morons when first exposed to them & the more I read, the more I felt this. Frauds using grandiose terminology, concocted concepts & misused if not misunderstood ventures into other areas not their own (the hard sciences?), mixing & matching, all in a seeming effort to both impress & intimidate — especially cowering grad students. Well, a couple of badass physicists seem to agree and they wrote a book called Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science & it’s awesome! Alan Sokal & Jean Bricmont go even further than I would have in trashing these idiots, in calling their bluff, in correcting their absolutely attrocious butchering of physics & the hard sciences, if not other areas, in which they prove most of these French postmodern “geniuses” have no damn clue how to spell “quantum,” let alone “math,” they’re so stupid. They laugh at them & on behalf of their colleagues in the sciences as well & call them out, making them look like fools in one spoof so unbelievably stunning & brilliant that when one reads of it early in the book & sees proof of the plain idiocy amongst the cultural faux intellectuals & then goes on to read example after example of named, specific “demi-gods” spouting BS that, in some cases, is literally rubbish, dead wrong, proof of their insipidness. For others who wonder at the spectacle of such apparent twits gaining their reputations because they truly deserve them, this book will provide the truth with humorous sarcasm while putting the majority of them in their place — which is nowhere close to where “The Academy” has placed them!)

In any event, I’ve long enjoyed, been challenged by, amused, disturbed, impressed, etc., at what so many postmodern writers have done. I’m not foolish enough to state that these are the greatest writers, this the greatest genre. I’m just saying I dig it! And the creative opportunities seem endless so that one can go anywhere from simple “rebel” nonfiction masquerading as fiction (Winterson’s Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit — anti-religion) to the infamous Naked Lunch & yet even far beyond that as well. Some writers I’ve especially enjoyed include Vonnegut, Kosinski, Rhys, Acker, Doctorow, Burroughs & many more. While meandering through tons of books & authors, I discovered metafiction, which seemed to be a rising movement with a lot of promise, not for everyone as you’ll see, but utilizing various plot devices one can trace directly to a number of special films over the past few decades that were not adaptations of these novels, but were clearly influenced by them. As I’ve written a lot over the years, sometimes I like to experiment in new things, new areas, not because I plan to move in that direction, but just as a challenge, just for fun. So it was that I wrote several pieces of short fiction during the mid 1990s that were based upon & maybe even designed to be metafictional & while possibly three stand out in my mind, this one is the only one I think really came close to meeting that mark. And as I said, apparently I wasn’t alone in thinking that & it remains possibly my favorite piece of fiction I wrote, certainly so in writing it. I never claim my stuff is great; I’ve always claimed to outwork & outproduce virtually anyone else, which turned out to be true for some 15+ years I believe, as do some others in a position to make that judgment. So I didn’t intend to write a “Forward” or anything at all, but to simply put the story down & let people read it. But most people I’ve met haven’t read & thus wouldn’t understand the context of a metafictional work & while it’s not necessary in order to read any, because this is not representative of what I do & have done, I reconsidered & decided to preface the piece with a some info so anyone reading it might have a clue as to why the author apparently doesn’t.


EXITS

Hi!  I am a writer, or at least I pretend to be.  I think I am, therefore I am.  Yes, I write poetry, fiction, nonfiction ‑you name it, I write it.  Of course, if I wanted to really make money, I’d be writing kiddie lit, or maybe porn. Yeah…porn, that’s it….

Anyway, my name is Steve Universe. I know, I know, I get nailed for the name all the time. Actually, since I’m the author of this story, I suppose I could go by any name.  Naming is power, you know.  That’s what they say at least.  My parents exhausted universal power in first creating me, and then in naming me.  They created for me an identity, whether I wanted one or not.

Naming.  Power.  Writing.  Power.  Naming is such a buzz phrase these days. Current hot topic, especially with the feminists.  Because it’s true power.  For instance, I am writing a story.  Even now, as we speak.  Even now, as you read this.  I will write a character into the text.  I will name him.  What?  I’m not sure yet.  But I will create him and he will owe his very existence to me.  Pretty God‑like, don’t you think?  Power. Naming. I’m a writer.  Or at least I think I am.  Well, I speak as a writer.

My author’s name, evidently, is Scott Holstad.  (Who would have picked that name?)  He claims to be a writer (but then, don’t we all?).  I mean, who the hell has ever heard of Scott Holstad?  If I’m destined to be a measly character in someone’s story, why the hell couldn’t I get Updike or Vonnegut?  Hell, even Mailer or somebody like that? Somebody known?  Someone who matters?

Well, this Holstad character seems to be the asshole who gave me my name, at least that’s what he claims.  Steve Universe.  He seems to find humor in it.  Play on words, that sort of shit.  Universal.  University.  Mr. Universe.  Universe.  I don’t call that funny.  He’d never make a living as a comic.  And Steve.  Pretty boring I’d say. Why not something a little more exotic?  God knows, most writers do seem to have somewhat boring names.  Robert, John, Walter, Steven.  Well, I’m a writer; I speak as a writer. I would name my character Fabio…yeah, that’s it.  Exotic.  Romantic.  Steve.  That’s so…universal!  I mean, I could be anybody….

Hi! I’m THE writer, or at least I pretend to be.  The Government says I am, therefore I am.  They give me these little numbers and I exist.  Truly.  I kid you not.  I know it’s amazing, and I sometimes doubt it myself, but just try dodging your taxes sometime and see if you don’t exist!

Anyway, I’m the creator of Steve Universe.  I know, I know call me a narcissist (and you won’t be the only one), but deep down we’re all ego maniacs.  It’s that God Complex.

Well, Steve’s been railing away so I have decided to just write him out of the text. That’s right, erase him.  Just write him out.  Easy as pie.

There.  I’ve done it.  Steve Universe no longer exists.  And it was easy to do, like I said.  They say we are all capable of creation and that may be true but, God –  are we ever capable of destruction!  Total annihilation, say I!

 We can erase, Reconstruct, abolish, eliminate, terminate, DESTROY, with the greatest of ease.  Oh, and we writers are so proficient at it.  Comes with the territory I guess.

Actually, I’ve been thinking about something new lately.  New, that is, for me.  I speak to you as a writer, therefore I can say this.  I’m thinking of writing myself out of the text.  That’s right, textual suicide.  Innovative, eh?  I hate to admit this, but Steve was right about one thing, at least.  I’m not the best-known writer.  Oh, I have my share of groupies and I certainly appreciate them.  They’re devoted.  But, I’m not exactly a household name either.  Not that I’m ambitious.  Not that I’m a narcissist.  I speak as a writer, remember?

Look, what better way to achieve notoriety?  Textual suicide.  I will be no more. (And I know I am now. I know I exist because I have numbers proudly given to me by my Government.)  I will be no more.  Oh, I know I won’t be around to enjoy the accolades, but what the hell?

And those saps out there always fall for the suicides.  My God, what a bloody operation!  I’ve always wanted in on the scam.  The papers, TV, TV, TV, TV, mags, papers, bloodsucking TV.  We’re the fastfoodfastentertainmentfast sexfasttloodthirstyviolent generation by God, and we’re suckers for that shit!

Give me my suicide!

Give me my constitutionally guaranteed suicide!

Oh, they’ll just eat it up.  And Steve?  Well, he’s been written out of the text, eh? Doesn’t really matter anymore, does he?  He’s Steve Universe.  Was Steve Universe. Universal.  University.  Mr. Universe.  Steve Academia.  Boring Steve.


Steve, Steve I’m so 

bereaved I can’t conceive  

Why we must leave.


Oh, but I digress.  Again.  But I speak as a writer.  I’m allowed occasional digressions.  Writers, dammit!  Never seem to get to the friggin point.  I mean, well, what is the point?  The point’s the point son.  The end’s the point.  Cause we exist you know.  I, Scott C. Holstad, who speaks to you as a writer (and as a human? maybe?), I exist you know.  This I know.  For the Government tells me so.  It gets so slow.  Sometimes gotta go.  Breakdown.  Discourse.  Breakdown.  The point?

Oh yeah, the Point.  I guess it’s the End of the stick you put your hot dog on.  Or maybe your marshmallow.  The Point…the Point.

The Point, oh yeah.  Well, to get on with my story, I think I’m going to write a new character into the text.  To be my narrator, of course.  To carry on the tradition…the tradition…the Point.

Actually, to be perfectly honest with you, sometimes I feel like I’m already being erased from the text.  It’s like someone has pushed the Pause button, but it turns into the Erase button.  I don’t know how to explain it.  I don’t know how to…communicate…it.  I don’t know….

Well, this is very strange indeed.  It feels like someone’s been tampering with me, with me, with me, with me…me — …me…me…me with…me with…me with tampering… NO! That’s Martin Amis you dolt!  We’re not going backwards in this story.  We’re being Fucking erased!

As I said, I speak to you as a writer.  And I am the creator of this mess, so I decide what’s going on.  Right?  I am going to ever so conveniently create a new character before ever so conveniently obliterating myself from this increasingly dreary story.  Textual Suicide.  Oooh, how ’bout Cyber Textual Suicide?  Yeah, they love that Cyber shit.  It’s so in.

There.  See?  I’ve created yet again.  A new category.  A new ending.  A new genre which they’ll be beating down the damn doors for.  Cyber Textual Suicide.  Only a matter of time now before it’s in the Canon.  Oh baby, they’ll be asking GRE questions about it. I’m drooling now just thinking about it!  And I owe it all to me.  Me!  Not Steve Universe. Not Scott Holstad.  I mean, Wait!  Yes, Scott Holstad.  That is me.  I think.  Wait, hold on. Let me check my ID card.  Oh yes, right here.  Scott C. Holstad.  In black and white.  Very official looking.  See, the Government says I exist.  Therefore I am.  I am the Creator of this story.  Cause the Government says I can.  I am the Creator….

And people laughed when he claimed that God was dead.  God’s not dead you fools.  I am God!  The Creator.  Yes, of this story.  And the Government says I exist so it must be so.  Right?  And if I want to obliterate myself (Wait. Here it comes…a rousing, orgasmic cry of Cyber Textual Suicide!!!), from the text of course, I can do it!  Cause I’m the Destroyer.  I mean Creator.  I mean God.  Oh, what’s the difference?

And this new character…what should we name it?

It.  What gender first of all?  Or does that matter?  We’ve all read Virginia Woolf after all.  And we did see “The Crying Game.”

Well, ok, but what color hair?  Eyes?  Teeth?  Teeth?   OK, I tried to pull one over on you.  Or is it put one?  Or does it matter?  Whatever the case, I am the writer because I am the God.

OK.  Height?  Weight?  Genitals?  Oh, no need to go Victorian on me.  Really!  Boots or balls, what’ll it be?  Come on, come on, we don’t have all day here.

You see?  Do you see why I am writing this and you’re not?  My God, you’re slower than horse shit!  And indecisive.  What a match.  Readers dammit.  What the hell do Fish and Iser know anyway?  I mean, have they ever actually tried to work with a reader?  Ain’t that easy, is it?  No sirree.

I feel decidedly better now.  Sort of.  Just thinking about what I’m about to create makes me go positively gushy from head to toe.  I’m talking thrills a minute. Because I’m the Creator.  The Government says so.  And it should…. Hold on, what’s this?  But I haven’t decided to go yet.  I’m the only person who can erase myself from the text.  Hang it all, stop that!  What is going on here?  I speak to you as a writer because i am the creator exist you know the government tells me so this i know you know i am god it’s so I’m the master of this story but everything’s getting denser is that really a word werd weird bsmck shit now i know that’s not a word dammit i need my words to create i need my language my name my power my god….

Hi!  Sorry about all that gibberish back there.  You shouldn’t really have been forced to endure it.  Feel free to register a complaint with the proper authorities if you must.  But on behalf of the author and this publication, I would like to extend a formal apology.

Those Post-Modern writers think they can get away with anything.  Pretentious fucks!  Oops, sorry.  It’s just that they get feisty and break loose every now and then.  But don’t worry.  We take care of ’em. We put ’em back where they belong.

Now. Where were we?  Oh yes.

Hi! I am the writer.  I know I am a writer and I know I am the writer because I speak to you as a writer….

XXX

Scott C. Holstad 

© 1995 Scott C. Holstad

#metafiction

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