1. Ha ha. I knew Penguin’s collaborative wiki-novel would be a dud. Still, whoever managed this experiment for Penguin should have tried harder to avoid the obvious traps of dumb jokiness and intentionally bad writing (“Crashing tides sounded groans of agonized discontent”). Let the record show that for 24 hours starting on July 23 2004 over a hundred poets worked together on LitKicks to write a single long poem. But here’s the key: instead of letting the throng dictate the structure and the style, Caryn and Jamelah and I carefully controlled the proceedings, asking participants to send short verses in response to specific prompts which we then hammered into a finished work (while fighting off sleep and copy/paste fatigue). The result is, I believe, a really good poem, which was then included in this book. Online collaborative writing can work, but it requires a strong central vision, and you’ve got to resist the temptation to let the project devolve into silly self-indulgence. Tweak the formula, Penguin, and try again.
2. I have no inside info about the impending exit of Random House chief Peter Olson. But I worked for his wife Candice Carpenter back in the dot-com days of the late 90s, and despite Gawker’s sarcasm about this “domineering wife” I remember her as the most impressive and inspiring entrepreneur I ever met.
3. A book with the wrong cover provides a moment of literary dissonance. This article indicates that a person who thinks they’re reading a Theodore Dreiser novel might actually get some distance into a Henri Bergson philosophical text before figuring out that something’s wrong: “But the interesting thing to note is that for the first few pages or so I was actually open to what I was reading, I thought it was an unusual yet interesting way to begin …”
5. It’s not literary dissonance but simple cognitive dissonance that I suffer from when I try to comprehend that the death toll from the Myanmar cyclone may reach 100,000. This is, of course, the country we were just talking about (the choice to call it Burma or Myanmar appears to have political significance beyond my understanding).
8. Forever England at DoveGreyReader.
9. Hilarious and so believable.
10. I see that Ed Champion shares (no big surprise) my own enthusiasm for the work of Ralph Bakshi. It’s quite a scoop that Bakshi originally wanted to use Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird”, rather than Bob Seger’s “Night Moves”, as the closing song for American Pop, his multi-generational saga of Jewish-American musicians and songwriters. It’s funny, I always thought “Night Moves” seemed out of place in this excellent movie, though I don’t completely see “Freebird” working either, especially since the character who sings this song is supposed to be a New York punk.
11. William Gibson will appear in New York City at Upstairs in the Square with Martha Wainwright on June 16. And a whole bunch of good writers — Chris Abani, Derek Walcott, Yusef Komunyakaa, Natasha Trethewey will be at the Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica on May 23 to 25.