In EXPERIMENTAL LITERATURE: A COLLECTION OF STATEMENTS thirty-four writers and critics reflect upon how literature puts itself to the test in an effort to make itself new. Those reflections assume very different shapes, and each approaches the question from a different angle. There are formalist readings here, and historicist readings; some contributors consider the politics of literature, others focus upon aesthetics; some statements deal with national traditions or periods, others are more synchronist. There are pieces on French theater, the Russian avant-garde, and performance in West Africa. There are meditations on poetry as a daily practice, on experiment as a way of knowing, on the restlessness of liminal spaces, and on the incommensurate dimensions of dream and reality. Each contribution is fueled by the notion that literature works best when it is willing to interrogate its own premises. Both individually and collectively, these analyses display an extraordinary mobility, one that does justice to the dynamism of experimental literature itself. Each essay engages its readers actively and thoughtfully, inviting us to participate in a conversation about literature’s horizon of possibility, about what literature is and can be. Robert Coover, arguably the most distinguished living American experimentalist, contributes an afterword to this volume.
As we are all hunkering down and trying to survive this COVID-19 pandemic, some of us are turning our attentions to our literary endeavors more than ever. The TV becomes mind-numbing after a while, and one can only view so many online videos before going goofy. So what better than buying a few books in order to make the best of our time? Please consider buying a few JEF titles during this period.
I have received a couple of inquiries about this year’s Kenneth Patchen Award competition. I had thought about suspending it, but then I realized how important the literary world is to all of us who would land here in this space. We would have a hard time finding much by way of innovative literature in any of the mainstream presses. Even the stuff they market as “innovative” is not very. So we will forge ahead with our plans for the 2021 competition, but I will extend the deadline until the end of August this year. That might help a few folks get their manuscripts together in time.
The methodology for submitting the work is the same, and the details are outlined in the contest announcement. We understand that many small journals are going to Submittable for submissions. Were you aware of the fact that using Submittable costs over a thousand dollars a year, and that is at the discount price for small press journals? We cannot afford that. We barely receive that much in submission fees total, and we give a thousand dollar award to the winner. If the options are to collect the materials ourselves, to double the submission fee, or to not give out prize money, we prefer the first. So the entry fee remains $25.00. Last year that brought in about $950 total, so you see this is not a money-making project. We do it because we love innovative literature. And I love the innovative novels of Kenneth Patchen that gave me great inspiration to do my work.
When I was a young man, I was working on what would become my MFA thesis, Cistern Tawdry, a novel that incorporated concretism and other forms of literary experimentation. When I showed my work-in-progress to my roommate, a book and record dealer by trade, he immediately told me that it reminded him of a novel he had in his collection, and he pulled out a copy of Patchen’s Sleepers Awake. At first I was taken aback. Here I thought I was working in a new direction in my own writing, and then I saw that much of what I was doing had already been done by Patchen back in 1946. I was at first irked, but then I realized that what Patchen had done actually confirmed that the direction I was working in was a valid one. And the seeds of my passion for Patchen’s work were planted. That passion grew, and when I went on my first book tour, which was for my first published novel, Truly Fine Citizen, I made sure that my publisher let me begin the tour at the Patchen Literary Festival in Youngstown, Ohio, where I was fortunate enough to meet Miriam Patchen, Kenneth’s widow. We had lunch together and discussed his work, and then we corresponded for quite a while. She even wrote a foreword for my novel Hugh Moore.
So you can see how deep my affection for Patchen’s work is, especially his three experimental novels Sleepers Awake, The Journal of Albion Moonlight, and Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer. Kenneth and Miriam Patchen went through extraordinarily difficult times because of his health issues, but despite the enormous challenges they had to endure, they kept going. Actually, near the end of Kenneth’s life, he was working on painted poems, which are some of the most beautiful pieces he ever produced. So, in that spirit, we will also keep forging forward and will face the challenges of these times without giving up.
Another friend of mine would sometimes say that there are times in your life when all you can do in put your head down, cover your ears with your fists, and run like hell. These times feel like that. Hopefully we can all get past these times together and intact. And then we’ll have yet another amazing story to tell, and to tell in our own ways.
Best wishes to you all,
Eckhard here. I wanted to thank everyone who participated in last year’s Kenneth Patchen Award competition. I was amazed at the quality of manuscripts we received, and, in another year, I could easily have seen several of them as winners. We are very proud to have selected Genelle Chaconas’s book Plague City, and I am sure you will see how wonderful it is when it comes out. Normally I send an announcement to every one who participated and thank each participant personally, but something tragic has happened. Within days of announcing here Genelle Chaconas’s selection, the external hard drive to my computer crashed, and that contained, unfortunately, the list I had been compiling of all the email addresses of everyone who submitted this year, and, foolishly, I had no back-up for that file. So, short of going through all your emailed submissions all over again to cull your email addresses, I was unable to send that announcement. So please accept my apology. I take this contest very seriously, and it is part of my effort to help keep the spirit of innovative fiction alive and well.
We hope to be publishing the 2018 winner, Patrick Keller’s Those Brave as the Skate Is, within the next couple of months. We are wrestling with some formatting issues, which is not uncommon in innovative work, but hope to have everything in order soon. So stay tuned! More wonderful work is on its way!
Our next title, Denis Emorine’s Death at Half Mast, is almost ready for launch, and I think you will really enjoy this book. It has been translated from the French with great attention to detail by Flavia Cosma with input and oversight by Denis and Michael Todd Steffen and help in American idiom and punctuation by yours truly.
Please take a look at some of our most recent titles as well. Yuriy Tarnawsky’s The Iguanas of Heat and Warm Arctic Nights, Harold Jaffe’s Porn-anti-Porn, James R. Hugunin’s Finding Mememo, Jim Meirose’s Understanding Franklin Thompson, R.M. Strauss’s The Skrat Prize Memorial Anthology, Grace Murray’s Black Scat Books: A Bibliography 2012-2018, and Jeffrey R. DiLeo and Warren Motte’s Experimental Literature: A Collection of Statements are all worthy of your attention!
Thanks for being here!