Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Problem with Providing Your Own Content

or, The Service Publishers Provide

Here, read this.

Most of you know I read online comix with a great amount of passion and frequency. Or at least now you know.

One of the best is The Order of the Stick.

Now, in the back of my mind, I've always wondered what the hell the point of publishers was. Sure, they can get distributorship deals, but so can a motivated writer.

But in googling about server problems with Erfworld (a comic given web-life by Rich Burlew, creator of OOTS), I ran across the above conversation. Use ctrl+f to find "the Giant" and read what Rich writes.

If you'd like, you can go to the GITP forums and see more of the same.

I submit the above for you, readers, why it's often bad to provide your own content.

Consumers are going to complain about, well, everything. They are also going to speculate, create fan fiction, and do all sorts of things that may (rightly) annoy an artist. When the artist is a whiny d-bag about it (as most are) this is not normally a problem. Complaints, etc. are handled through a 3rd party -- you know, like the publisher. Hell, even this site isn't published by me -- it's got the power of 1 with a hundred zeros behind it. Woot and what-not.

But when the artist is also the content provider, his all-crazy-lame-fests ain't got no filter. Two hundred years ago, Archduke Rudolph told his court buddies to ignore the crazy bullshit of Beethoven. Fifty years ago, Ezra Pound's publishers (and friends) worked to get him out of the crazy house. Publishers provide all sorts of services as far as protecting their artists from their audiences -- and vice versa.

Far be it for me to actually support some sort of intermediation, but with as batshit crazy as so many artists can be -- especially wrt their own work and responses to it, I think it behooves us as thinkers-about-new-methods-of-content-delivery who or what can do the publisher's job of being a buffer between the artist and the audience.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Strong Verse Blog: an introduction

With over a year and a half since my first post, I think it's high time for a Strong Verse primer. The declaration is good and the numbers and prosody are useful in their own ways, but every system of thought needs an introduction, so here is mine:

Forms of literature:
There are three forms of literature: Prose, Poetry, and Propago. Propago is a bit of wrenched classicism that means "literature that also has images." Ergo comix, moving words, word art, etc. Feel free to come up with a better word, but it's important to acknowledge the "new" form of literature as it takes its rightful seat among Poetry and Prose.

Definition of poetry:
Prose is easy to define. It is simply written-down language. Propago, even, is easy to define -- as I did above. Poetry, however, needs a bit of help, as evidenced by the eternal (and silly) question "what is poetry?"

Poetry is writing that is dependent upon the syzygy of content, sound, and form. In a previous definition I said "image" instead of content -- but content is far more accurate.

All writing can be art. I defined art a few weeks ago, but I'll repeat the definition here:

Art is work of quality made for the indulgence of others. Ever since Kirby's criticism, I've been trying to find a "better" word than indulgence. I don't think the word exists that conveys enjoyment, enlightenment, and sometimes punishment -- except perhaps "schooling" but that's a bit slangy for me.

This blog is concerned with oral poetry. Indeed, my contention is with the three divisions of writing that "visual poetry" is propago and should be understood and studied as such. Tl;dr -- if it's not written to be spoken, it's not poetry.

This blog is concerned with formal poetry over "free verse" poetry. Indeed, I would prefer that most "free verse" poets realize what they write is prose, stop putting it in lines and work within flash fiction, a worthy and noble cause. This is not to say that poetry cannot be written without the aid of a metrics of some sort -- note the definition is "form" not a specific kind of form. The art is in the imposition.

This blog is very concerned with the state of poetry and poetry readership in the US. Suffice to say that I lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of US poets with most of the rest falling to our failing educational system. I do not blame publishers, as I wouldn't ask anyone to throw away money. I do, however, think that the cronyism inherent in American poetry is shameful though inescapable. I'll do a 6b here and say that I generally talk about poetry in the US because that's where I am. I don't know how the "scene" works in any other country, so unless a reader wants to tell me, I'm a bit short on info.

This blog promotes narrative verse. This is not simply to be contrarian. If both quality and readership are in the toilet, perhaps we as poets need to do something different. Experimentation is tried and tired. I think we should stop naval-gazing and do something difficult -- like telling a good story in a way that sounds as good as it tells.

This blog serves as a place for reviews -- either of new literature or of poems and poets I think people ought to know about. If you'd like me to review a work, I will generally be glad to, though I will not write a negative review, as I'd prefer not to give any press to a work I find distasteful.

As with any blogger, I am prone to a bit of off-topic ranting and raving. I support no party and am against chaos and violence.

Well that's it. Weather permitting, I'd like a post or two every week. We'll see.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fixing Education

If we have a nation of non-readers (200 million or so) that is (by far more) also a nation of non-poetry readers (290 million? something like that), part of the blame has to be on the educational system -- granted, the lion's share of the burden falls on the inability of most American poets to write anything worth reading, but the soul-sucking monster that is compulsory public education needs to be addressed as well.

to wit:

G.M. Palmer's Plan for Fixing Public Education
a baker's dozen rules

1) Test all teachers on a standardized test (WISC, SAT, ACT, GRE, TAAS, FCAT, etc.). Whoever doesn't score in the 75th percentile or above gets fired (do you want people who aren't smart [not just "not dumb"] teaching kids?).

2) Increase starting teacher salary to at least 100% of local median income. Make 20-year teacher salary 200% of median income. Give salary adjustments of 10% for each graduate degree step (Master, Specialist, Doctor) earned by a teacher. Now you have a salary scale. Use it.

3) Recruit heavily in high schools and colleges, reminding potential teachers that we only work 196 days a year.

4) Create and employ a strict and permanent expulsion policy. If a kid comes to school just to fsck around, he doesn't need to be there. Which leads to. . .

5) Remove "compulsory" from public education.

6) Give credit for all classes based on nationalized, standardized competency exams. Make these exams available at all times to all students. Passing the exam (which I would hazard a guess to say means getting well over a 90%) gives you credit for the class, end of story.

7) Award various "High School Diplomas" -- General Education, Trade Education, Business Education, College Prep, Technical Prep, etc. All of these will be credit -- and therefore competency-test based.

8) Anyone 18 or under can go to any school at any time.

9) All classes are open-enrollment and capped for attendance solely at teacher discretion.

10) No school campus should have more than 500 students. When 125% of capacity is reached, the community must find and provide new housing (I hear abandoned Wal-Marts are readily available for conversion. . .).
11) All campuses will incorporate any grade-levels a teacher wishes to teach/the students wish to learn.

12) All campuses will incorporate any subjects a teacher wishes to teach/the students wish to learn. This includes all arts, trades, humanities, sciences, etc. up to and most definitely traditionally "extra-curricular activities" and sports. If a competent adult is willing to teach children how to do it and children are willing to learn and work it can be done.

13) This may be restating (5) but attendance in classes is not mandatory. We should care that students learn, not that they breathe the same air as us.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Review: The Year of Loving Dangerously by Ted Rall and illustrated by Pablo G. Callejo

The Year of Loving Dangerously

Ted Rall (author)
Pablo G. Callejo (artist)
MSRP: $18.95 ($13 at Amazon, though)

(regular readers wondering why I'm reviewing a graphic novel would do well to read this)

The graphic novel-as-memoir is as likely a choice as you'll ever see from Ted Rall. Generally a target for controversy, at least with this book Rall can quash the arguments that his work is poorly drawn -- Pablo G. Callejo's artwork is delightful and spot-on and period (1984) when it needs to be.

The Year of Loving Dangerously chronicles Rall's "annus horribilis": from the fall of 1983 to the fall of 1984 he nearly died from a vampiric wart, failed out of Columbia, and was dumped by his long-time girlfriend. In what can scarcely be termed an improvement, Rall spent the summer and a great deal of the fall bed-hopping, bumming food, and fencing typewriters in an attempt to stave off homelessness. Dangerously ends with Rall in a secure job, sharing an apartment with his coked-out pothead of a buddy, and juggling three girlfriends.

Rall intended Dangerously to be "a chronicle of desperation, of how easy it is for anyone—even a white male attending an Ivy League school—to fall off the merry-go-round of U.S.-style laissez faire capitalism." I, however, tend more to agree with Xaviera Hollander's assessment: Rall's memoir is not a "chronicle of desperation" but rather an instruction book in how Rall "exploit[ed] his looks in return for financial reward."

That is, Rall's Dangerously does not read like a map of the dangers of capitalism. It reads like a glorious paean to it. When "the system" of specialists (professors) and bureaucrats (deans) not only failed him -- but became hostile to him, Rall went underground. Employing his only remaining capital -- good looks, intelligence, and charm -- Rall "avoided the ignominy of spending a night outdoors" not once but for the better part of a year.

Rall consistently found ways to exploit the system and make a profit -- whether in bedclothes or cash -- month after month of living screw-to-screw Rall did not survive -- he thrived. Knowing that the cheaper Connecticut transportation tokens work as subway tokens, Rall ran a nice black-market exchange to double his savings whenever he could. When he had to come up with nearly two month's pay for an apartment deposit, Rall stole equipment from the corporations he seems to despise even today -- becoming a bit of a corporate robber baron himself.

Reading Rall's memoir of homelessness and desperation, I was reminded of Adam Shepard who became intentionally homeless in order to prove that with drive, intelligence, and diligence there were no barriers to success. What Rall and Shepard have that most homeless folks do not are simply those few things -- education, intelligence, and drive -- that are imperative to financial success. So reading The Year of Loving Dangerously does not give us an insight into the problems of homelessness in America -- what it does is show us that if a "white male attending an Ivy League school" finds himself in dire straits he has no damn excuse but to pull himself up out of it.

I do think that Rall's book can be exceedingly valuable (though not as he intended) in helping understand the problem of homelessness. If Rall (or Shepard) can be ultimately untouched by homelessness, then what are the inherent problems keeping others homeless? Knowing that the problems are largely internal and not external ought to serve as a guide for those who want to eradicate homelessness (and don't we all?).

I would be remiss in my review of Rall and Callejo's excellent graphic novel if I didn't mention the "graphic" part. The book, when it is filmed, will certainly garner an "R" rating. The graphic novel is a perfect medium for depicting sex. As Tom Wolfe recently showed us, there is no right way to write directly about sexual intercourse -- it comes off as either mechanical or prurient. Either a medical journal or a Penthouse letter -- there are no in-betweens. With a graphic novel, however, sex-writing just works. It straddles both poles and rides to satisfaction without stains of boredom or pornography.

As I say, The Year of Loving Dangerously is an excellent work. If I may have wanted to know more about what happened to Rall at the end, that merely shows he and Callejo did an excellent job of telling a story. As more folks read it or when this book is filmed (yes, I said that twice), I expect that Rall's exploits during his "annus coitus" will rub up a tight debate on the ownership and exchange of sex and the benefits of truly unregulated capitalism.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Defining Art

I like working definitions. Let's have one for art, shall we?

This post will concentrate on artists in the main, over what they create; as art is made by artists, they are fundamental to understanding what art is and what it is about. Familiar readers may also expect that I will mention audience a few times. They will not be disappointed.

Before I get going, I'd like to thank my friend Drew for the kernel of conversation from which this post grew. Its first iteration came at Kirby's blog (look to your right) but I'm fleshing it out more here.

The simplest -- and therefore most correct -- definition of art is this:

Art is work of quality made for the indulgence of others.

In order to be on the same footing, let's visit these words.

Unless Bill Clinton has started reading the blog, I don't think we need to treat "is," "of," "for," the," and the second "of." We'll also leave the period alone.

"Art" is defined by the rest of the sentence.

"Work" is important. Art takes effort -- generally in creation itself (as in, say the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel) and in training -- though with enough training, it's possible and likely that the time required for creation will be reduced -- if nothing else because an experienced artist makes fewer mistakes. "Craft" might be a useable word here, but it frequently has anartistic connotations and "work" is the simpler word. Work, however, is functioning as a noun -- that is, it is something that is made.

"Quality" of course is a slippery word, but I like it better than "highest standards." Quality is the part of art that is up to the artist. Many people can make work for the indulgence of others. We generally call this the business model. The artist takes this work-for-the-indulgence-of-others, adds his or her own highest or most exacting or most demanding standards, or quality, and makes something more lasting than a double cheeseburger.

"Made" is of the utmost importance. Part of the uncomfort we feel when confronted with "found art" is the sense that no one made it. Surely this is the impetus behind the joke inherent in Duchamp's Fountain. It is certainly the difference between Warhol and Duchamp. Made also relates back to work. This made-work is what makes an artist like Christo interesting (or makes a person like Christo an artist to be less generous) -- he (and his team) put a hell of a lot of effort into wrapping those trees and walls and Reichstags.

"Indulgence" is what makes art art and not, say, food. Food is essential; art (to be religious) is adiaphoric. To some extent this is a silly argument. We, I believe, know good and well that it is the adiaphoric that makes life "worth living." By design we don't notice the essentials unless they are gone. This is, perhaps, a point where Luther erred in designing his churches -- he told them "not to sweat the small stuff" but for most of us, "the small stuff" -- the non-essentials -- are the details we actually care about. Ergo so much debate about art. But the adiaphoric nature of "indulgence" is only half of the story. I was tempted at first by the word "entertaining" or, perhaps pedantically, "edification." But these words ignore the possibility that art may shock and injure as well as delight and heal. Indulgence is, to my knowledge, the word that best encompasses all of these abilities -- "extra but desirable."

"Others" is the key to art. Way back a decade ago (in the Clinton era!) when I taught creative writing, the first thing I told my students was: if they were just writing for themselves they were not creating art -- they were making expression. Art is not art unless it is both shared and influential in some way. The observer must internalize the work to a degree that he or she has been changed enough to "possess" the work mentally and physically. This brings a tweest in, though -- not all art is art to everyone.

Art is a conversation between the artist and the observer with the work as the language. Because we look at the world differently, we value different kinds of art. Part of the impetus of my writing so far has not been to say "this art is crap" -- though surely a lot of it is -- but that, rather, "this art speaks to too few people."

So when we set out to make art, we should ask:

What work will I do?
What are my standards (desires?) for this work?
How will I make it?
What will it do for my audience?
Who is my audience?

Perhaps this is not what we ask when we begin to create an expression -- when we first write those words granted by the muse. But these questions are what we must ask ourselves when we craft our coal words into diamond art.

Intro to Poetry List

I suppose this list says a lot more about me than poetry.

"Blackberrying" by Sylvia Plath
"She Walks in Beauty" by George Gordon, Lord Byron
"Red Red Rose" by Robert Burns
"Since Feeling is First" by e.e. cummings
"Tame Cat" by Ezra Pound
"Sonnet 130" by William Shakespeare
"What Lips My Lips Have Kissed" by Edna St. Vincent Millay
"My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke
"La Belle Dame Sans Merci" by John Keats
"The Lady of Shalott" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
"Sestina: Altaforte" by Ezra Pound
"Ulysses" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
"Warming Her Pearls" by Carol Anne Duffy
"The Colonel" by Carolyn Forche
"The Hollow Men" by T.S. Eliot
"Gretel in Darkness" by Louise Gluck
"The Emperor of Ice Cream" by Wallace Stevens
"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot
"In a Station of the Metro" by Ezra Pound
"Mending Wall" by Robert Frost
"The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe
"Fever 103" by Sylvia Plath
"Annabel Lee" by Edgar Allen Poe
"The Journey of the Magi" by T.S. Eliot
"Home Burial" by Robert Frost
"Lycidas" by John Milton
"Usura" (Canto LXV) by Ezra Pound
"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
"East Coker" by T.S. Eliot

I hope to be back now after my extended hiatus. Life's been busier than poetry -- though I'm delighted to find this blog on a professor's reading list. w00t.