Sunday, October 18, 2009

Get Know!

Know: “No Know” is here --- The Corresponding Society’s premiere line of poetry chapbooks --- representing the following exciting verse collections contained in finely-wrought limited editions: “Elegies for A.R. Ammons” by David Swensen; “This Pose Can Be Held for Only So Long” by Caroline Gormley; “Wow, Where Do You Come from, Upside-Down Land?” by Lonely Christopher. Read more and see withal:

When, Why, How, Who, Know

The Corresponding Society was founded to publish our journal Correspondence, third issue arriving almost-presently, and for some time the moral, mental, and monetary expense of that undertaking alone distracted us from thoughts of multiple directions. Also, at an early meeting, somebody chanced to scream, “There is no way we are doing chapbooks!” and it took a while to schedule a review of that declaration. Around the time we went so far as to release the online chapbook The Gates Salon (Thursday) by (issue three cover artist and contributor) Ray-Ray Mitrano, readable here, the project of a series of single-author poetry chapbooks was being proposed by (one of the founding editors) Robert Snyderman. The chapbook, a sexily intimate object as far as vehicles for poetry go, presents quite a different form than the anthologizing hulk of a literary journal. The latter’s crowded gloriously with a noisy gymfull of different writers, voices rubbing around the pages in discursive concert (the order of the work has to be arranged carefully, like an arty mix-tape); the former’s singular and allows breathing room for a particular voice to stretch --- a single-source poetry architected to have space with itself between the folded cover pages. Also, whereas Correspondence releases in a perfect-bound, professionally printed version, the craft of the chapbook is intensely personal and susceptible to cultish attention. A finely-made chapbook is a fetish object in some literary circles. There was a tremendous argument for embarking on the adventure of a chapbook line and Mr. Snyderman initiated the effort by curating a triad of titles from poets he admired and wanted new published projects from. Almost immediately, Robert fled the country and became an illegal alien roaming Quebec and environs, working as a migrant farmhand and traveling/ditch-sleeping with a French-Canadian painter he met on a beach. Fortunately, Sonia Farmer and Caroline Gormley had accepted duties as the artistic directors of what Robert had named the “No Know” series; thus work was able to continue through the summer. Actually, the two art directors also fled the region presently --- on a protracted homeland visitation to the Bahamas and a relocation to Austin, TX respectively --- but not before covers were produced by letter press process, which makes for fucking handsome chapbook covers. The books came individually from terrifically disparate poetic sensibilities, yet from writers who had been working very closely as peers for many years. When presented all three at readings, the texts play strangely off each other, inciting formal resonances through elegiac examination, across the pages of modernist literature sweeping some words onto new surfaces, and around a legion of social voices stolen into new rhetorical contexts. The pitches of these poems range from conceptually personal, personally textual, and textually sociopolitical. The innocent editors, who volunteered the man-hours required to stitch and otherwise prepare these limited editions, were nearly destroyed by the fairly simple task of sewing paper, but everyone involved argues the sacrifice --- for what “No Know” offers, if the dear reader cares to discover, are important introductions to the writerly projects of three distinct young directions.

Know More No

The three titles are available at select NYC book merchants and, conveniently, here for purchase through our online store. For a limited time, orders placed online will enjoy free shipping.

Each title is published in a limited edition of 50 copies, is pamphlet stitched, and features a letterpress printed cover. Learn about them:

Elegies for A.R. Ammons by David Swensen

These are poems for the late Ammons written as the true elegy must be. They do not lament the lost poet, but attempt to wade into and harvest from his work. They integrate the landscapes of Swensen’s North Carolinian childhood with scenes from his more recent life in Scotland and New York, commemorating Ammons by constantly pressing at his colloquial --- at times ribald --- style, keeping alive Ammons’ work as it is pressed into new and vital forms.

This Pose Can Be Held for Only So Long by Caroline Gormley

A personal geography and map of the Texan Gulf Coast viewed through the eyes of youth. The poem strives to recreate that lost landscape by whatever means available --- at once using traditional poetic forms as well as combining the dissolving documents of childhood, with selected erasures of major 20th century American novels.

Wow, Where Do You Come from, Upside-Down Land? by Lonely Christopher

With the utmost precision and economy, Lonely Christopher addresses in Wow, Where Do You Come from, Upside-Down Land? the contemporary queer political sphere through questions of linguistics, conducting his subjects into a terse, wry, and ultimately operatic chorus of commentary.

"By eloquently rearranging the detritus of our national debate about gay rights, Lonely Christopher’s biting, anti-poetic poetry shows us the heights of pathos and the depths of foolishness around the issue, while delightfully mixing sexuality with textuality."
--- James Hannaham (author of God Says No)

Also know: the entire series is purchasable for fifteen dollars together. Get know.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Epistemology of Emo

Mae Saslaw was last month's guest editor. She has just gotten to writing her second post.

Her pieces have appeared in Correspondence 1 & 2, and more of her work is available at

Some months ago, The Correspondence Society and friends wrote a series of essays on the nature of the hipster and what constitutes hipster culture, if there is such a thing. We overwhelmingly concluded that there is no unified hipster culture, that they produce no unique or identifiable cultural artifacts, and this is one of the primary reasons for their failure—or, since perhaps they weren’t trying in the first place—to form a distinct movement of any kind. I’ve heard arguments along the same lines applied to emo: that there is no identifiable emo music, literature, or art; that emo kids themselves disagree on what aesthetics define emo; that “real” emo was over long before the word/concept ever really took off, and so nothing after maybe 1998 (the year is highly debatable) counts as emo; etc. I have no better working definition of emo than the next emo kid, but I will argue that—unlike hipsters, though the difference between the two is not especially what I mean to emphasize—there are coherent ideas and thought processes running through the whole of the emo movement/scene/what have you, that the lifestyle or, really, epistemology, emerged in the wake of punk rock and still persists in some form. I do not pretend that the authenticity and quality of what is popularly considered emo music has maintained the high standard it once had (you can laugh here), and the degradation and hence bad reputation emo music has endured is in no small part due to the inevitable effects of commercialization. The point I mean to make is one about shared experience: whether your canonical emo band is Sunny Day Real Estate, or Brand New, or Bright Eyes, or Dashboard Confessional, etc., your general worldview has a great deal in common with that of another emo kid from a different time or place, etc. along the emo continuum.

The condition of the emo kid is easy to write off as unfettered vanity and self-indulgence, the case for this view being that emo kids are, in the main, relatively privileged and unaffected by what most people consider to be real traumas of contemporary life, ie, they are situated (usually) well above the poverty line, and have never been exposed to or threatened with extreme violence. We find it hard to sympathize with adolescents and young adults who have grown up sheltered at a time when millions of children have real problems. And, during my own stint as a self-described emo kid, the guilt I felt around feeling dissatisfied with my life (guilt from the knowledge that others had it way worse and yet I found so much about which to complain, or, more accurately, to almost deliberately make myself miserable) was a significant part of the system of malaise I wove in my head.

That said, it’s as hard to convincingly argue that emo kids do have at least a few actual problems, and that these problems are the common threads between different versions or incarnations of emo. And I’ll concede that, even in hindsight, I can’t say that they even were real problems, but it sure as fuck felt like it: the certainty and gravity of the conclusions I drew about myself and other people trumped any remaining capacity I had for objectivity. Everyone really was unendurably vapid and insensitive, and I really was going to maintain my destructive habits unto lifelong loneliness. That’s how it seemed. Part of ceasing to be emo—rather, as emo—was my growing need to apologize for how absurd I sounded in pretty much every communicative act I made, how absurdly I behaved for several solid years. The other part was discovering better art, better music, and most importantly better literature, and realizing that there were far more comprehensive and sustainable ways to deal with the world than the thought processes I mired myself in. And, as has become apparent in this essay, I still continually apologize for emo—to anyone who has been emo, and to anyone who has had any sort of relationship with an emo kid.

With the apology must come the explanation of what it is I am apologizing for. The epistemology of emo, I have decided centers around the following emotional ideology: The emo kid sees in herself some pattern of self-destructive behavior and finds herself both unable to stop and unwilling to continue, but because she is unable to stop, she must continually question whether or not she really is unwilling to continue, and if she is not, she must question what intrinsic flaw makes her weak-minded or truly self-destructive or both. The self-destructive behavior might be a desire for romantic relationships characterized by severe dependence and/or “trust issues,” a desire for meaningless sexual encounters, eating disorders, cutting, repeated alienation of friends, drug and alcohol problems of a fairly minor order, etc. Her ability to question whether or not she wants to stop in the first place leads her to conclude that she is not truly, hopelessly addicted to anything, and indeed she usually is not, but draws her conclusion from an assumption that truly, hopelessly addicted people have already lost the ability to question want vs. need vs. un- or subconscious drive. But, at the same time, the fact that she continues whatever destructive behavior she likely knows she has chosen leads her to further question why she hasn’t totally destroyed herself—ie. she is not dead, or incarcerated, or in rehab, or pregnant. She has never reached and maybe never been close to total destruction, and she sees this as evidence that she is still in control of her actions, and therefore fully capable of “fixing” herself without outside help. Her ultimate self-analysis, and this usually takes at least a year to arrive at, is that she enjoys being somewhat—but, obviously, not entirely—self-destructive, enjoys the level to which she can predict what causes her pain. There’s no real way to tally how many emo kids slowly pulled themselves out of the emo condition vs. how many did go to rehab or join a religious organization or otherwise make some drastic life change that shocked them out of their particular self-destructive behavior more or less overnight. And I am fairly certain that members of the latter category are harsher critics of emo, and those most willing to argue that the emo mentality has no redeeming qualities for anyone. I don’t blame them. I only want to describe, as clearly as possible, the strategies common in every emo kid’s approach to thought and life in general. I call the totality of my conclusions the epistemology of emo because the emo movement, for all its fragmentation, describes a condition of the individual that is all-encompassing. The reason, I think, why former emo kids are so easy to spot, and why they tend to stick together, is that the whole tempest of skewed logic leaves its etchings on the walls of the mind. It’s why someone ten years older than me uses the same word to describe incredibly different artistic periods: ever since punk rock gave us permission to question our role and agency as adolescents, and grunge gave us permission to rage inwardly at whatever we happen to hate about ourselves, emo kids have been inventing and perfecting the cultural artifacts that feed the attitude and vice versa.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

No Wave

What Is Not Post-Feminism?
Some Questions and Problems
by Lonely Christopher

Feminism is a problem of the discursive relationship between theory and praxis. Feminism is simultaneously an academic/theoretical grammar and a sociopolitically applicable ideology. There’s much confusion about what being a feminist means right now; the concept oft languishes as an empty signifier mouthed weirdly by women stuck between third wave and post-feminist perspectives --- those of no wave. Where does the deconstruction of essentialisms become the eschewing or even denial of an affirmative and required praxis of and for contemporary women? Feminism: is institutionalized (theory divorced from praxis in academia), becomes a museum piece (in Brooklyn, where the feminist wing of the museum was founded a year or so back), gets erased by poststructural pluralism, (and/or) just sounds dirty because it can’t cohere as a system sufficiently balancing the pragmatic and existential. What does it mean for a male to identify as feminist or to write about feminism (the latter happening here)? How much room has been made for minority perspectives or is the problem of petit-bourgeois feminism, of a possible feminist hegemony, a bad framing device? Has second wave activism been too eschewed or is it poststructural subjectivities that have been overly ignored? Does a multiplicity of feminisms strengthen feminist thought/praxis conceptually or obliterate all efficacies? How much feminist discourse is today still articulated using the vocabulary of the second wave and does that make such discourse outmoded? bell hooks, decades ago: “Feminism is a struggle to end sexist oppression.” Where does Butler’s subsequent gender confusion and performative play fit in an oppositional/corrective conception of praxis-based feminism? Where fits art and thought designed to critique and explore rather than directly promote change? What is feminism without the concept of change, without being synonymous with the transformative influence of praxis? Is continued social change resulting in the promotion of women “more feminist” than Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party,” or isn’t the distinction between activism and art so clear? If, according to the “post” model, feminism is no longer relevant as a contemporary rubric, what now? There probably isn’t more feminism after post-feminism. The problem with post-feminism, its failure, is that is not so contemporary as premature. As a theoretical and socially inapplicable model, post-feminism reads okay as a subset of another post-positioned idiom (postmodernism?), but maybe it negatively closes discourses that should stay available so as to acknowledge the work remaining for change-oriented praxis. Perhaps it’s similar to pushing a post-gay perspective in a sociopolitical context of widespread inequality and subjugation (today, still). When somebody playfully says, “You’re here, you’re queer, get over it!” one wants to tersely respond, “You get over it!” The argument against oppression is declared falsely efficacious, allowing the problem to go on underhandedly. Is this the case with feminism? to what extent? These problems, arising decades ago and remaining unresolved, are some qualities of the no wave that troubles the idea of feminism as a coherent logic. Is this really all just about power or, if not, what else (and how much else)? Christine Wertheim recently writes: “The Subject of History may be dead, but all of the […] others⎯the women, blacks, the queer, and the poor⎯in whom power never resided, still don’t have their share of discursive space.” When does anti-essentialism end up privileging the sneaky normative that refuses being argued out of domination of power relations and ideological discourse? This is nothing more than a recital of problems and questions; unknown is how many questions are rhetorical and how many pertinent but unanswerable. The only likely conclusion in this context is that what and how feminism is represent problems to be addressed, positively, as points of centrifugal departure.