Saturday, October 11, 2008

Hoss Men (in reverse)

An Essay in Prosetics

: a survey that provides monthly and quarterly statistics on new single-family non-farm house sales

Oct. 31


My first thought of the war, then, was of "Israel," but I abandoned the thought when the war opened in favor of "gasoline." I had months before that written a short story, "Texas Was Better" -- in September 1990 before the war -- that begins with a gasoline shortage for boaters. I wrote the story within days of my arrival to Texas from New York in the vein of "what I did on my summer vacation," but I had, in fact, moved to Texas and was writing as a recent journalist in the vein of a reporter touching foot in a place and writing about it. The "news" in the story is of gasoline prices going up; the rest is a fiction, a poetical investigation of private life, especially of "daydreams."

- 30 -

Oct. 30


New Year's Eve-to-New Year's Day, 1991.

"In Israel, a garrison unit (Hebrew: חיל מצב; cheil matzav) is a regular unit defending a specified zone such as a city, a province, a castle or fortress, or even a single building."

T.C., her mother and I were drinking champagne by the bottle. We had drunk a case of it. We were in for the night, not driving. Outside it was cold, many degrees below zero; with the windchill it was 45 below. The doorbell rang. The dogs barked. T.C.'s mother, G.C., let them in. One of the men was T.C.'s first sex partner in high school. It could take a day to remember his name, and I might confuse him with someone else in high school, create a false attribution. I could place a call to get his name, but I am no longer on friendly terms with T.C. I don't recall his name, but it was he, the same jock from high school who had broken her. She was not a jock. The nameless jock was tailgated by P.S., a different P.S. than one previously mentioned in this story, not to confuse them. P.S. had been my secret admirer in junior high. He had sent me a box of chocolates on Valentine's Day in 7th-9th grade. The nameless jock was in high spirits because he was in the Air Force, about to be deployed to fly a mission over Iraq. He and T.C. hightailed it upstairs, and I stayed downstairs saying "no" to P.S. We must have been pretty drunk. We must have sat there for two hours. I didn't want to drive in that weather at that hour. P.S. wouldn't take "no" for an answer, so I left. I drove three miles before the car stopped groaning in the cold. I thought of the word "garrison." I thought it was on her part like sleeping with the enemy. It was unclear who the enemy was. The enemy was not our military. Knowing her, she thought it was sex in defense of Israel. I thought in her horniness she had not had a choice; I thought in my lack of horniness I had had a choice. It was the first I had heard of a mission over Iraq.

Oct. 29

1991 mixed-genre multi-genre intergenre intragenre hybrid genre attention span reader multimedia audio video CD perfect-bound saddle-stitched folio alternative book fair ABR Rain Taxi innovative style form friction process product

Oct. 27

one light bed fink helmet rose


Guidelines (1984-2008):

"old school" wait single submissions solicited unsolicited rejection slip form rejection slip written rejection acceptance word count deadline S.A.S.E. postage envelope street address postman post office contract assistant editor guest-editor genre editor editor publisher Gordon Lish The Quarterly agent William Maxwell literary journal George Plimpton Paris Review magazine nom de plume The New Yorker Daniel Menaker New York Times Book Review Harvard Publishing Institute M.F.K. Fisher's "war cake" Virginia Woolf H.D. Christa Wolf Margaret Atwood Grace Paley Adelaide Morris Nineteen New American Poets of the Golden Gate Lorrie Moore J. S. Marcus Knopf small house large house vanity press mss. double-spaced 12-pt. nlqr nlqs Times New Roman floppy disk word-processor Word Perfect cut-and-paste pencil imagination pagination margins draft revision proofs I.B.M. Selectric typewriter Writer's Market advance royalties subsidiary rights first North American rights copyright Lillian Hellman Mina Loy e.e. cummings Theodore Dreiser Gertrude Stein Theodore Roethke Emily Dickinson Sylvia Plath William Carlos Williams Elsa Baronin von Freytag Loringhoven Jane Bowles Gregory Corso Kenneth Rexroth Ivan Turgenev James Joyce D.H. Lawrence The World Split Open J.D. Salinger Beats Dada Alexander Cockburn T.S. Eliot Bloomsbury Group Anais Nin William Burroughs Stephen King Grey Gardens International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses mIEKAL aND Xerox independent press Pushcart Prize micropress L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Bruce Andrews Lyn Hejinian Leslie Scalapino Ron Silliman creative writing program Iowa Cornell Stanford Sarah Lawrence Johns Hopkins U-Mass. Buffalo S.U.N.Y. U. of H. Ph.D. M.F.A. B.A. M.A. M.L.A. A.W.P. J.I.L. Ch.H.Ed. canon theory abstract concrete ethnopoetics Jerome Rothenberg Pierre Joris Larry Woiwode MSS. Robert Bly Allen Ginsberg Robert Creeley Amiri Baraka Naropa Binghamton Community Poets Eudora Welty Anton Chekhov William Shakespeare Sherwood Anderson multiple submissions multi-submissions Timothy Liu Amy Hempel Lydia Davis Linda Gregg contest fee contest judge grant application writing retreat writing seminar writer's colony conference convention typography minimalism maximalism pomo experimental conventional collaboration text font illustration cover design author photo writer poet poem long poem series poem epic poem letters hard cover paperback soft cover anthology book release party publicity movie rights David Kay book tour poetry reading fiction reading book signing meet the author Marguerite Duras Clarice Lispector Jean Rhys Donald Barthelme bookstore independent bookstore chain bookstore Amazon Bookstore publishing collective distribution mass market trade paperback chapbook novel novella flash fiction prose poem short story memoir autobiography letters creative nonfiction literary genre "stuff" Jim Robison Rosellen Brown contacts family partners lovers friends newspaper paper weight black pen blue pen red pen PEN read submissions reading period fall semester spring semester winter quarter summer quarter trimester international translation Nobel Pulitzer Guggenheim Mac Arthur N.E.A. fellowship grant St. Mark's Poetry Project Anne Waldman Woodland Pattern Laurie Anderson Diverse Works Fiction International Harold Jaffe Washington Review Mark Wallace Black Ice Ron Sukenick The Loft spoken word slam Richard Howard Alice Quinn C. Michael Curtis Rust Hills children's books women's studies African-American studies Asian-American studies Hispanic Studies American studies comparative literature English politically correct multicultural Macintosh Apple I.B.M. P.C. name recognition full-length member dues AOL url disability Chaim Uri Bob Dylan Leo Kottke electronic submissions paper submissions email address Amazon Lulu SPD Minnesota Literature Newsletter Open Book Sid Farrar Maria Damon Hannah Weiner website weblog WOMPO Poetics Wryting-L Alan Sondheim listservs Michel de Montaigne Kathy Acker has died distribution webmaster d.i.y. copyleft download print-on-demand podcast mp3 email Facebook-friends Bowery Poetry Club Bob Holman Mad Hatters' Review Carol Novack Big Bridge Vernon Frazer DVD FC2 ebr epc Orono Rod Smith James Tate John Ashbery Jean Valentine Adam Fieled poetics prosetics vispo Sheila E. Murphy Charles Bernstein Amy King Lee Ann Brown Sean Killian litmus test barter at-cost favors fashion model commercial model community model

(600 words)

Sunday, Oct. 26:

rose helmet fink bed light one

Oct. 25 (cont'd):


Submission guidelines:



Oct. 25 (cont'd):

My chapbook in the underground market is a "book" at 30 pp. with color art. She had asked, how are you "there" (on the internet), not are you late, nor why are you here, nor what are you, as the square-faced lady had said on Halloween*. 56, the traveler. 22, grace. Fiction, I said, not meaning it.

Oct. 25:


Last night a group of poets who thought my name was Alison or Susie invited me to eat with them at a Ukrainian restaurant. It was my duty as their guest to remember one fact and "divulge" it regarding my publishing assets. The obvious, though it slipped my attention, is a poem I had recited at a gallery in the Bronx that is to be translated to Ukrainian. I had momentarily forgotten it. The woman with a farmer girl's blond braids whom I knew by her name and A.S.'s endorsement let me know at table -- there were six of us -- that I have an internet "presence" that extends beyond explicable borders considering I don't "have" a book. I "have" a chapbook, I told her stupidly, joyously. Later I compared our internet presences at Google -- hers is vast compared to mine and pertains to two books that I could readily locate. She is a visual artist who is also a poet and disagrees with the academic study of poetry. I ought to have praised her for her letter and poem; instead I had praised her past revealed in her letter. I feel like telling her now about the town of La Crosse and the Tom Waits song about heaven. I feel like praising Truck for not showing; I had not shown for a reading in St. Paul and compared it to Arthur Craven's disappearance. I rarely meet someone in NY who is not a Christian-Buddhist-atheist. The poetry hidden in the underground poetry market sounds gray through a cave of filtered light. The "difference" between internet and "print" is transition.

Oct. 24:

It had been lost on me that shoes from Latin America were not available for sale but cocaine was -- this was the 1990s; or had cocaine been replaced by speed manufactured in people's houses -- pictures of chemical explosions were on the news; young people had burned their skin. One young man posed under a portrait of Jesus. One young woman's skin would never repair. Her face and body would always look like that -- an unmade bed. It was a drug war after the fact. It was the war of a generation, but who knew which generation or what the sides were? Was it Colombia flaming the U.S. with a forest fire of addiction? Was it Canada using the internet to deluge the U.S. with prescription drugs without a prescription? Had it been the C.I.A. turning its back on crack cocaine manufacture in California while Honduran exiles sent millions in proceeds to the Nicaraguan contras? Was it a war against blacks and poor whites to help stoke the military and the burgeoning prison complex? John Kerry had stood up to the Senate, but he stood alone. When I voted for him, it was with adoration. "My Crush on Daniel Ortega."

Let's talk about "academic unemployment" for writers. Free speech was porn. "I'm sure you'll have a very interesting novel about academic unemployment," the agency in Minnesota had written about the story about Frederika, the academic in the novel. "What do you want to be, a rogue journalist?" someone else had asked later when I had applied newspaper editing to writing on the internet. He had published a story in The Washington Post when he was nineteen, a white Republican -- from a political family -- at school at Howard in D.C. He dropped out of college to do drugs. Now decades later he was bullying people at A.A. in PA, a secular Republican opposed to the welfare state, to fat on people's bodies, and to bipolar disorder, an insurance salesman whose goal was to renovate his farm house and work three days a year. I never met him, but that's where I sent the beaver.

My short story collection had been returned nine times. It had had the following titles: Table-Talk in 1988; "Hymen" and other stories; Hogging the Lady; The Universal Girl for It, and in 2000, Institute of Tut. I finally stopped sending it when FC2 rejected it.

Fax the Beaver was its last, secret title. The beaver is a dirty trick, and it belongs on the index card. All the 21 stories in the collection have found separate "homes," as people say in publishing (that and "shepherd," as if publishing were a gathering of Jews for Jesus), except one about young writers called "Raisins," one about childhood called "The Hostage," and one about M.K. called "Hymen."

"Hymen" ran through workshop three times. It was another writer's interview piece; it was becoming boiler plate for a textbook. Later it was edited until it was a story about anti-semitism instead of a story about rednecks in upstate NY, egalitarian rednecks who were vigilantes for choice. That reader's fear was of the hinterlands. One could hardly blame her that she had not read much in "the paper" about redneck vigilantes for choice nor met one; in fact, she didn't read the paper, the paper once wrote.

Oct. 23:

After I had left school, I reflected that what I knew of the business I could write on an index card. I had heard about three deals.

The trails in my hometown are marked by signs with universal symbols on them, rather than words. One winter day, when it was bright like spring, and the snow was shrinking in its piles by the road, I returned from the mall on a mission: I had bought ivory gloves, a hat, and a ring. I had written a long story about a young academic in Houston who takes up with a rock 'n' roller instead of the man who had offered to marry her, the one who was more like her, because sex with the rock ‘n’ roller was better and more often. In bed with him one day, she realized that he might lie there indefinitely reflecting lyrically about China – the year was 1997 – but not buy her an engagement ring, that he would more likely buy her an ice cream. Her school, she realized, might not pay her, and she’d have to pay herself, buy her own shoes from Latin America (she said). The young academic in the story is a poet who rarely writes poems, not a novelist. By then I knew that fictions have a way of coming true -- a compelling argument for carefulness, one that teachers didn’t elaborate due to fear of seeming religious. On the index card about the business, I could have written “truth is stranger than fiction,” but even the tow truck driver might know that. Why go to expensive schools? After I had completed the beginning of the story, I set out to true it by buying items mentioned in the story – shoes from Latin America, for example, a diamond. I turned over every shoe in the women’s shoe department at the downtown Dayton’s – all of them made in Italy – when the clerk, acting suspicious, came over to supervise me. I ended up buying a shiny pair of Italian black oxfords for $163. I bought diamond earrings next, a half carat, for $285, reduced from $425. It was my lucky day, the jewelry saleswoman said, and she was almost right. Deals were usually kept private, with little mention of money; these were not listings for Publisher’s Weekly. I still hadn’t bought the ring, the engagement ring that no man in my real life had seen fit to buy, concerned as he was that it should cost two months’ salary. On the next leg of the mission, I bought a spring stone and diamond ring at the flea market at the mall. I paid $287 for it, reduced from $325. And I bought the ivory gloves and hat. Then I drove in a blaze of sun down the horse trail. I had not noticed the triangular orange sign with the picture of a horse on it. The car bottomed out at the bottom of the first hill, and I walked two miles home, wearing the hat – a woven one that felt like a basket on my head – the ivory gloves and under it the ring. The police were at my house two minutes after I got there, and I had to explain to them how I’d missed seeing the horse sign. Long story short -- I never finished the other story as a novel -- the sun down, I tipped the tow truck driver $15.

Later the same day (Oct. 21):

V., I gave version 2 (27 pp.) a rest. This is the distillation of 300 pages sans any previously published sections. It has proven to be a pliable form -- as I re-read, I'm riveted (even though I wrote it) until I get to a section about Australian birds and neurosis followed by the lake -- the whole lake at a glance or that one fish -- and "The Dream" and the rest. These are necessary passages (I assume, based on the fact that I edited cautiously in '94 in creating a distillation), but that's where I flag -- around 20 pp. or so. Is it me or did you flag there in reading it, too? I ask because I'd like to keep working it a while if there's still a little time. The other 270 or so pages are in MN, and this is the second not the first time I wrote so long and left out so much. I suppose it's a rant -- it degenerates and becomes proof of inhumility and ignorance of very large patterns in the world (induction) as a direct response to being in isolation and eventually to breaking down, etc. As a proof it is sort of interesting, I supposed then, but I doubted people might actually follow it as such and just notice "bad writing." Something reminded me of this recently when I read Tao Lin's passages from a recent book and could see how transparent and innocent and unaffected and mad the voice was -- it's not that he's a lousy writer at all but the loneness of the composition and the ambition of the project that created it. If you have a chance, please offer editing ideas for the excerpts of WOWHBS I sent you, and I'll try to shape it w/o leaping out of the chronological design underlying the full version.

Today (Oct. 21):

We didn't meet as a group today to discuss and critique the novel and long poem because everyone was writing poetics papers on deadline, leaving me to wonder about the art and practice of writers reading (again). The long poem veils its willingness to be about the poet herself, and like many novels under 300 pages (about the writer under 30) this seems like a long story.

Day of a birthday (Oct. 15):

Barthelme had picked GW as best, GW, not GWH. A group of men arranged to get the best of his seven novels into print. They invested in hardcover. His daughter was already in college by then, his ex- still the subject of controversy if his name arose: I had always thought she was "smart." All right, some of the women had been strippers, but the ones we knew were smart. There was an audience for it, for stripping. I had never been there, to a men's club; later I queried in my hometown -- no writers -- about strip joints. Four had double-dated as marrieds there. There were strict laws in MN about the width of the panty fabric. No panty, then a plexiglass window separated patrons from the stripper. I asked to go to one, and P. took me. He was from California. The drinks were expensive and abrasive. Men who looked like they'd been beaten with the pole sat ringside beside women who looked like Henrietta Stackpole. This was before I had bought clogs, shortened my hair, and grown my hips and thighs. I stood there skinny-as-a-half in "big hair," ankle boots, and black eyeliner. P. was in radio, not books. He had a sense of humor. I was researching a different man for a novel.

Today (Oct. 14):

I suggest that we discuss L.'s piece as a whole on Oct. 21 and A.'s novel as a whole on Oct. 28 (or later); that will give me a chance to get A.'s whole novel from her. I have chapters 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 12. A. gave me chapters a few years ago in MN (wh. may have changed since then) and another set of chapters -- T. says it is chaps 1-4 -- which she suggested I pass to T. over the summer. How many chapters are there? It's 350 pp. or so, right?

I'm getting tense as I write this because I also have C.N.'s rapidly changing and unfinished new novel parked on my hard drive and T.L.'s experimental novel. I would consider referring the two of them for an experimental "group." I'm also supposed to work as editor for two journals and single-handedly publish a chapbook; I haven't heard a word from my own chapbook "publisher" in the collective, and I haven't been hired for this kind of work in years.

The method for novel that I learned from Woiwode is to write straight through once in pencil, without (you or anyone else) reading or rereading it, before rewriting -- three months or so for a 350 pp. first draft. To rewrite as many times as needed. To work on the next book while waiting to hear from editors. In the workshop at Binghamton, we met weekly as a group to discuss praxis in a highly focused way without "workshopping" chapters. Larry later read & line-edited all the novels; we heard read aloud every chap. 1 at semester's end. Then we arranged with individuals to read next drafts as we liked. It was the only novel workshop in the country at the time ('87) besides Kesey's at Eugene in collaborative novel.

Gardner had died; he was no experimentalist nor was he short-shrift. People downstate thought "suicide"; everyone upstate knew it was a fluke motorcycle accident, word spelled in Texas with an "x."

Agents, I have little idea. Woiwode supported his family in the 60s by publishing in The NYer (his friends were De Niro and Barthelme), so perhaps there was little trouble in his finding one. E.W. met his at a bar. He publishes in Paris and Texas and just got his movie deal. L.R. sold her first novel w/o an agent and didn't recommend it. B. met "my" agent at a bar, but that agent and so many others didn't want short stories or novellas.

Virginia Woolf wrote her novels in the morning and edited her morning's work in the afternoon. Also, they self-published as Hogarth Press. How much is "500 pounds" in today's dollars? A room of one's own -- with a lock from the inside not the outside as in psych hospitals -- or no lock needed? Angel At My Table.

Yesterday (the day after "next day"):

The hoss men selected one natural light blonde and two Asian-brunettes for young motherhood and timely publishing. I was a dark Swedish blonde -- not gone gray -- with a total of four fiances and a Scottish name meaning "ghost"; "fiance" could land a redhead a teaching post, but could it land her a son-book on deadline?

It came down to fathers and schools, to alma mater and Dad.

The day after that (after "next day"):

The long interview referenced childbearing. A son before 30 meant two contracts.

Same day (as "next day"):

What I mean is: you -- one -- could go it on your own, research the mechanics of printing, hire or appoint an editor, see about distribution or wait for someone to ask you, someone kind with a good disposition, someone adept at handling her own affairs; you could litmus test her or more likely, she, you, about the Palestinians. "My tobacconist is one. His wife is from Jordan." Are there K-marts in Jordan? Can you see Jordan from your house? You could try a position. You could test her on "post-modern*ism*." You could try a translation. You could post it.

Next day:

A few of our compadres in Barthelme's school were "waiting" to walk through the door of the "establishment." A car from the service would escort them. Barthelme had died. Someone said talent was not enough. I said if a single thing could be enough, talent then. The quiet surrounding the elections was the quiet of a library or the quiet of the secret service. Were you with "them" or against? Were you one of them or one of the others? Were the others us or against us? Were you "for" war or against it? Were you for Israel or for the Palestinians? Were you an upstart who'd seen a thug from your car window late at night? Did you know whom "pagers" were for? I said pagers were for doctors at the symphony, but someone else -- who knew more about new technology than I did -- said pagers were for drug sales, drug, not meaning pharmaceutical.

Years pass, years without remittance, admittance to salary as a professional, years spent swallowing the pills of conformity -- I said it was like communion. What had the hoss men said? I focused on my friend's family in Jerusalem and on my early boyfriend who was from Haifa. Despite the controversy, the confusion over drug v. non-drug, a pill might be needed to balance the mind/body. But was a war needed to balance the economy? I didn't think so.

There were poets' "wars," waged with toothpicks. The front was not in the South nor in the North. Nor was it out West where the bookstores flourished nor in the East where a tree grew. In Brooklyn? where rent was a little lighter. We were guessing. And what of "the short story," literary genre that proliferated yet ceased to exist after the "renaissance" of the 1980s? A few of those writers had gone down "early." Carver had died. An epic novelist, the pre-authors reasoned, would live longer. A heart attack was reported as a suicide, despite frequent truth drilling; a suicide in an epic novelist was based on "experimental." The turnstile let one slide in beside the others; no car would await thee at the airport, but the train would arrive.

Previous day:

Sonia would quote Oscar Wilde to me, "if you can't tell a lie, tell the truth and get it over with." I wonder now whether I ought to have looked that up then, in the kitchen at 1747 Kipling, Houston. We didn't have internet yet, and the library on campus was picked over, like chicken bones, and the public library downtown required underground parking. Think of what guards once did to keep people away from the books. In high school, the "geeks," as the intellectuals were called, had to cross a line, like a picket line, where cheerleaders and their jock boyfriends sat on the steps in protest of knowledge, to get to the library doors. Call Sonia and ask, "Where did you get the Oscar Wilde quote, the one about truth, get it over with?"

We loved to yak, the truth is, in my kitchen or her living room, aware that her boyfriend may not have approved of our unsupervised pursuit of intelligence. Our books, not our books for writing (the books we thought we were and would be writing, and more than writing, but sending and publishing, a game still mysterious to us, though we meet people every day who have mastered it, their lines and pages glued together between glossy paper covers for which they did not "pay") but others' books, our reading (a fragment). The men forbade books in their non-absolutist way -- they agreed that one lesbian ought to be allowed to disseminate (word) -- and recommended the sexual life to the rest of us, to those thin enough for it, instead, as if sex were patriotic, as if the sexual life were the only life they would reward in us, not minding their anger and rage when it came to conflicting lines of ownership, the words they'd slur us with, a number, what we knew in our rental units of "zoning" and "no zoning."

The men in bidding us to lead the sexual life did not sublimate (Freud).

We didn't learn "publishing" at school, didn't learn how to turn "writing" into "books," or, if we did learn "submissions," it failed. The pupils at other schools learned more -- they learned the books, and they "have" the books. We learned it is better not to. Living, as God said, is paradise (prelapsarian) without the tree.

Save a tree than to publish a book, helper to be a ghost.

(20 pp. double-spaced max. for print version of "Hoss Men" = 14 of 21 days, 2 of 3 wks. 4,746 words)

Monday, October 06, 2008

Like a delight

Will he be black?
He will scream,
"I will long for
to will glide
This stream may stride and glare, but
it is angrily meagre
A sort of wall
A kind of invasion
A sort of delight
A kind of eye
Lustre is so motionless
it will quiver you
As if he will be steady, turning,
laying, like a use.
He will be shiny, his terrible

Poem attributed to me (that I did not write) in Issue #1 at For Godot, Research in Poetry.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Conditions of a Narrator

January 18, 1994

As I begin this writing, I notice that I have taken the internal posture of a guest lecturer or a commencement speaker. I detect neither malice nor forgiveness in my approach, yet there is a degree of anger, the judicious anger of a midlife Adrienne Rich. I am not at the middle of my life but in the midst of it, surrounded by too much paper and, I'm convinced, too little product. The eventuality of an audience can help give the paper form, but I do not believe that form should merely be imposed--to gratify expectations--nor do I think that any given form is inevitable.

I want to say: I do not think that form is suicide.

February 10, 1994

Adrienne Rich's midlife "judicious anger" is aimed at powerful people and at systems and is reflected in the forms of language she uses. I would define "anger at others" in terms of "conditions of a narrative."

What narrative? What narrative.

Point of view: "Commencement speaker"

Tone: "neither malice nor forgiveness"

As a speaker, Rich might summon "neither malice nor forgiveness" and not point to us by name. She might heave the power to forgive. She survived her generation's suicide (Plath, Sexton). In later years she has returned to and been allowed to return to mainstream American poetry as a wise, encompassing source. She wants an end to war. She wants peace.

"Paper" --> anger --> form --> end to suicide.

January 28, 1994

Ideas are unspeakable only if they are seen to impinge on the fantasies of others. Meaning is in the making, but we also make meaning a habit. I am not thinking here of commonplace meaning: a car equals a car. I am thinking of what happens when language ropes a life. We attribute metaphor to language, yet among writers, some writers, life is lived by the book. A representational word (car, wind, drink) gets carried away into life. It refers to you, your mother, your mania, your sex. In its broader manifestations, meaning leads to a dangerous wholeness that some writers check with fragmentation and polity. The writer may want to protect or change the world but is confined to an acquiescent resistance to fascism. Resisting fascism, the whole of it, requires acknowledging that part that is in us.

In Lorrie Moore's story, "Community Life," Olena has become her man. She begins to desire women, from his point of view, and to hate them, from hers, or vice versa: "She had become a rapist, driving to work in a car."

In my own writing I see metaphor mostly in retrospect, just as I see influence in retrospect. It is not enough to read an author to be influenced: one must become the author or discover that one has been with the author all along.

In 1985, when I first read and met Lorrie Moore, I was first elated (that such writing could exist) and then anxious to be caught in a spell. I valued authenticity more than anything else in writing and thought that hers was mixing with mine. I wrote the problem out in a short story. That story, "Tinges of Envy or How You Learn," has outlasted anything else I wrote during that time because, for me, it goes to the heart of something genuine and forceful.

It is sometimes necessary to write stories about writing stories.

It is sometimes necessary to write stories about people one knows.

When I copy life it is because I have one. When I don't, I invent. When I say "life," I mean the opposite: sex without domesticity. To tell a story, one must dwell in the neighborhood of one's own body, yet I suspect that the very best writing occurs within sexless marriages.

January 31, 1994

"She had become a rapist, driving to work in a car." I refer to this passage as a metaphor. It could be a joke. It could be a dark joke. It could be an unspeakable idea. Olena's native anger suffused with her boyfriend's native lust turns her into a "rapist." Of course, figurative rape and actual rape are not the same thing, which is not self-evident.

Categories such as "date rape" and "lack of explicit consent" extend society's response to these as crimes. Yet the intellectual left has taken the position, in Harper's forums and Esquire editorials, that libidinal territory is being lost to hysterical crybabies. Disease, especially AIDS, and a certain brand of feminism could force libido underground, especially the libidos of young people who desire respect.

Desire for women is male; hatred for women is female, or vice versa. To imagine the power a man has--the power to rape--Olena must, ironically, induce a liking for women, call it up, not from an ancient or even a contemporary source. She must invent a liking for women in order to understand him.

Ignorance of one's self and one's desires is part of the real world, so it is reassuring for some readers, whether in the acted or written world, to know that ignorance will suffice.

There is a character in "Community Life" whose profile matches that of a man I knew in Madison, Wisconsin, where Lorrie Moore lives. He and his brother and another conspirator blew up a campus building to protest the war. All three were teenagers at the time. Carl, the man's real name, served twelve years for killing a graduate research assistant who had been working late in a lab. In the short story, a man is seriously injured in the explosion but does not die.

February 8, 1994

During my fall semester with Lorrie Moore, she urged me to "conform a little more," but I felt an affinity to truth, heavy baggage for any writer, and for a fiction writer insuperable. Had I written "Community Life," the male character would have been much as he was in life, a reluctant killer who had served his time. Moore doubted, perhaps, that readers could sympathize with a man who had killed someone for a cause or a girlfriend who forgave him. Perhaps she felt that maiming is (not) worse than murder. Perhaps she decided that the story should be about that.

In "Mugabe Western," a story I wrote during a bout of domestic invention, a dowdy young woman spends the night with a revolutionary African, not knowing that he is suspected of being a terrorist. The young woman wants love. It seems to her that her lot in life will be to have one-night stands with ugly or dangerous men. In her editing the story, Lorrie Moore crossed out "one-night stands" and wrote "her only other one-night stand."

. . .

Who is the reader? Is it important, from a commercial point of view, to spare the reader indelicacies? Certain indelicacies send me shouting to the water, shouting about the water, shouting carrying water. It is difficult to imagine these as a form.

March 20, 1994

The shouting at the water gets drowned out.
I must make myself quieter to be heard.
Form at this point is format: font, spacing, page.
I get a really skinny text, one that loses its willingness to offend. This is not to say that it is not harmful; it is to say that it seeks not to harm.

April 12, 1994

What I do formally is not new. Everything I salvage, the proximity of my sentences to one another, the stories I tell, my complaints, my excesses and absurdities all exist in variant form in someone else's mind. Nevertheless, people who have read my work have said that it presents a view of what fiction will be. I see in it something old as well. There are names for the kinds of writing that take place in Work on What Has Been Spoiled, but what is the name for their existing side-by-side? How great is the need for that name? I think it is wrong to think that traditional forms of narrative, as we know them, will die out and be replaced by so-called innovative forms. Participation in writing is voluntary; so, therefore, is form.

The struggle to "find a form" has in some ways been a false one. Once I began to edit Work ..., I saw how automatically I was able to give certain lines new space: it was nearly effortless. By that I mean, it was not agonizing as it was when I originally composed it. The difficulty now lies in transferring the reading to others. The readers inherit the process.

In an introduction to her work, Defoe, Leslie Scalapino begins with war--the Gulf War and the Vietnam War--"and then from all periods of one's/my subjective field. ... One has to be fragile to be without protection in this reality. ... I wanted to get the writing to the point of being that still. ... One has to stop doing the social actions. At all."

Carol Maso describes her work, AVA, as "a living text. One that trembles and shudders. One that yearns. It is filled with ephemeral thoughts, incomplete gestures, revisions, recurrences and repetitions--precious, disappearing things. My most spacious form thus far, it allows in the most joy, the most desire, the most regret. Embraces the most uncertainty. ... No other book eludes me like AVA."

Maso's book, composed of very brief paragraphs arranged associatively, does follow the story of the central character, Ava, but, Maso writes, Ava's story was influenced by events in the world. The story assumed its final form during the "terrible weeks of the Persian Gulf War" and was accompanied by "a very deep longing for peace."

In my short story, "What Kiss," I replaced "Bush's war" with "raging war" to prevent it from seeming dated, fleeting. Yet that war happened only three years ago. I doubt it seems fleeting to the people of Iraq. Many events discussed and referred to in Work ... will seem out of date, yesterday's news. I preserved them to remind ourselves of what happened then and as a gesture toward knowing our mind.

Not mentioned in this essay: Lyn Hejinian, Christa Wolf, Grace Paley, Amy Hempel.

Form should be the best response to the forces calling it into being.

-- Mother Ann Lee (1736-1784), Founder of the Shakers

The ideal or the dream would be to come up with a language that heals as much as it separates.

--Helene Cixous