The Extinction Lesson of a Comical, Salutary Creature

Illustration © by Elena Caldera

But the bird was fearless and easily lured aboard By an offer of unlimited ship’s biscuits. By a miracle the bird survived the crew’s curiosity And their wondering if it tasted delicious. After it had lived out its life in England A taxidermist was called when it died. He stuffed it and, to retain its luxuriant plumage, Cunning preservatives were applied. Its first owner in its afterlife was John Tradescant, Who passed it onto Elias Ashmole, Since when this comical but salutary creature Has become a curator of the earth’s … [Read more...]

Algren to Get the Literary Biography He Deserves

Colin Asher [Photo: Andrew A. Nelles]

The Leon Levy Center for Biography has awarded fellowships worth $60,000 each to four writers who are currently working on new biographies. One of them is Colin Asher, whose tentatively titled biography of Nelson Algren, But Never a Lovely So Real, is under contract to W. W. Norton & Company. The other recipients are Blake Gopnik for a biography of Andy Warhol, Gordana-Dana Grozdanić for a biography of the Bosnian writer Zija Dizdarević, and Eric K. Washington for a biography of James H. Williams, the former chief porter of Grand Central … [Read more...]

Algren for Real: ‘The End Is Nothing. The Road Is All’

NELSON ALGREN [foto: Steve Deutch]

Here he is on the big screen at last, an hour and a half of who Nelson Algren was and what he meant. It's a documentary with the sources -- authoritative sources (Kurt Vonnegut and Studs Terkel, for example, who give their personal impressions of the man). Radical sources, too (Paul Buhle for one, who lays out an essential historical perspective). This documentary doesn't just have the sources, it uses them the way they should be used. Vonnegut, Terkel, Buhle, and the others are allowed to get their say in whole because the filmmakers chose not … [Read more...]

Easter Poetry + Hadron Collider = ‘Son of God Particle’

Poem by Heathcote Williams. Narration and montage by Alan Cox. Art by Elena Caldera and other artists. Some words from the poem: Imagine Christ particles let loose on the one percent, Erasing their fortunes at a key stroke. Imagine airborne Christ particles attacking Wall Street, Penetrating algorhythms in its mainframe computers, Moving columns of figures from the rich to the poor, And bankrupting its hedgefund looters. … [Read more...]

realitystudio.org Launches Jed Birmingham’s Podcast

Jed Birmingham's Podcast from RealityStudio

I am STAGGERED! Of course I would be, for obvious reasons. Did I say I want this embedded in my headstone? Click to listen. It is utterly, inescapably humbling. The really wonderful thing about JB's devotion to books as artifacts is the way he appreciates them as mysteries and teases out their hidden meanings. This is the first in a possible series about William Burroughs, book collecting, the mimeo revolution, and whatever else strikes JB as relevant to his bibliographic interests. … [Read more...]

Sinclair Beiles: Poet of Many Parts and Places

Sinclair Beiles in 1969 [from 'Bone Hebrew,' Cold Turkey Press]

Dyehard Press has re-issued Who Was Sinclair Beiles? in a revised and expanded edition. I posted an item about the first edition when it was published five years ago. It's hard to believe so much time has passed. As I wrote then, Beiles was best known for his association with the Beats. He collaborated on Minutes to Go with William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, and Gregory Corso, and helped to shepherd Burroughs’ manuscript of Naked Lunch into print at the Paris-based Olympia Press, where he worked as an editor. "Best known" is a questionable term, … [Read more...]

‘Fugitive Literature': Granary Books Has Done the Deed

'My Adventures in Fugitive Literature' by Jan Herman [Granary Books, 2015]

Here's what happened: I was invited to speak about "little magazines and William S. Burroughs" on a panel with Jed Birmingham and Charles Plymell at the 2014 Burroughs Centennial Conference hosted in New York City by the Center for the Humanities. After my talk, Steve Clay came up to me and asked to publish what I'd said. I didn't know Steve, though I'd met him once years earlier, but I knew of his Granary Books. Among Granary's many titles was At a Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing: 1960-1980. Based on a 1998 … [Read more...]

I Remember Oriana Fallaci . . .

Oriana Fallaci

You hear a lot about Michel Houellebecq these days. You don't hear much about Oriana Fallaci. She was once more controversial than Houellebecq for her blistering scorn of Islam and Muslims. Mark Lilla has a big piece, Slouching Toward Mecca, in the current New York Review of Books about Houellebecq's latest novel, Soumission, which as usual is a controversial best seller in Europe. It's about "an Islamic party coming peacefully to power in France," Lilla writes. Peacefully is the word to note. What is especially surprising, he adds, given … [Read more...]

A Savoyard’s First Brush With Censorship

A feature-length experimental documentary, exploring the history of alternative publishing in Manchester, UK.

Have a look at this Kickstarter campaign: Savoy Books is an independent publishing house based above a locksmith shop in the South Manchester district of Didsbury, founded and run by Michael Butterworth and David Britton. In 1989 they published Lord Horror, the last book to be banned in the UK under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act. It was in part a response to Britton's time spent in Strangeways prison, and Savoy's constant persecution by the corrupt police force at the time. Now have a look at Keith Seward's penetrating book-length … [Read more...]

A Poet With a Dark Vision and a Tuned-Up Voice

Philip Levine [from WGBH series Poetry Breaks, created by Leita Luchetti]. Click for video.

The poet Philip Levine has died. Here's an appreciation, written years ago at the Los Angeles Times, which began like this: Philip Levine, no prodigy, wrote poetry for seven years before his first poem was published in his mid-20s. It took another nine before his first slim volume, On the Edge, appeared in 1963. But by then, at age 35, he’d emerged from his native Detroit with a dark vision unmistakably his own and a tuned-up voice as angry as it was tender. I posted it in full here, in 2011, as Levine’s Factory Stiffs, Society’s … [Read more...]

Some Got Plenty and Some Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’

Illustration: Elena Caldera

Five years after the Wall Street crash of 1929, George Gershwin wrote what he called a “banjo song” for "Porgy and Bess." It turned into "I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'" with lyrics by Edwin DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin. The second verse goes like this: De folks wid plenty o' plenty Got a lock on de door 'Fraid somebody's a-goin' to rob 'em While dey’s out a-makin' more What for? Heathcote Williams reminded me of the song when his poem Rich People was posted the other day by the International Times in London. His second verse goes like … [Read more...]

Burroughs Central This Is Not

My Adventures in Fugitive Literature [Granary Book, 2015] front cover

Anyone who thinks this blog is Burroughs Central has no idea. The fact is, I'm just skimming. The real Burroughs Central is RealityStudio, where the true aficionados congregate for deep postings by Jed Birmingham's Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker. For example, he recently made the case that le maître's cut-ups in the mimeo mags of the '60s are far more satisfying than the novels of his so-called cut-up trilogy (The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded, and Nova Express). Jed goes into great detail, brilliantly as usual, but his basic … [Read more...]

By Burroughs Possessed >>>>>> Burroughs 101

Burroughs-Possessed [Gerard Bellaart, 2015]

Being a serious writer hardly means leading the life of a saint. In 1951, in Mexico City, long before the publication of Naked Lunch, which made him famous, William S. Burroughs accidentally shot and killed his common-law wife Joan Vollmer in a drunken stunt. He was trying to prove his marksmanship William Tell-style. Instead of hitting the glass placed on her head, he shot her square between the eyes. Gerard Bellaart's charcoal sketch captures Burroughs possessed by what he called "the Ugly Spirit."* * * * * “I am forced to the appalling … [Read more...]

In Memory: Carl Weissner, So Rudely Interrupted

Carl Weissner [Photo by Michael Montfort, 19XX, from 'Nachtmaschine']

Carl died unexpectedly three years ago today. On the first anniversary of his death, I posted a tribute from friends and others. Here's a photo from a trip he took to Marseille, where he was gathering impressions for a novel he wanted to write, which wasn't all that long before he died. His absence among us since then has not diminished, although the date of his departure has grown more distant. (Update below.) WEDNESDAY May 5 torrential rains, high seas, snow on the highway in the Massif Central! wind tearing at the awnings and you. … [Read more...]

Kick That Habit? Bellaart Does Burroughs

Drawing of William Burroughs [Gerard Bellaart, 2014]

This pencil drawing of William S. Burroughs by Gerard Bellaart is one of two portraits. It's the introspective Burroughs. The other drawing, a charcoal sketch to be posted soon, catches Burroughs in a wholly different state of mind, as if possessed by the Ugly Spirit that Burroughs believed had dogged him throughout his life. The text on the card is an excerpt from "Incidental Intelligence" to be published in full in The Z Collection, a tryptich of portraits to include Godfrey Reggio and Norman Mailer. … [Read more...]