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,