:: Buzzwords Archive: April 2008. Click here for the latest posts.

Offbeat TV VIII (published 30/04/2008)

Filmed at Marianopolis College, Montreal, April 15, 2008 and brought to you by The Offbeat Generation Film Channel, Tony O’Neill reads ‘Mark Twain & I’, from his collection Songs from the Shooting Gallery: Poems 1999-2006:

Further: The Offbeat Generation / The Offbeat Generation Film Channel / Matthew Coleman reads ‘Dream Poem’ / Heidi James reads two pieces / Adelle Stripe reads 3 poems / Ben Myers reads four Brutalist poems / Matthew Coleman reads from Her Naked Self / Lee Rourke reads Everyday / Andrew Gallix talks Offbeat

The insurmountable Cassie Wright (published )

“Didn’t one of us on purpose set out to make a snuff movie.”

The bright nihilist that is Chuck Palahniuk is interviewed by The Advocate:

Ironically, Palahniuk, by most accounts, is very good at being with people—as long as it is a lot of people. His readings, what he deems “events,” draw capacity crowds. He recounts with relish the dozens of people who have fainted at his performances of ‘Guts,’ a short story from his collection Haunted that involves masturbation, a pool intake vent, and a prolapsed colon. “It’s great when that happens,” he says. “There’s death, resurrection, and then afterwards people experience euphoria.” A friend of mine recalls standing in line for a reading and Palahniuk snuck in behind, eavesdropped, then said in his ear, “Have you ever had a prostitute hold your tongue and jab you in the chest with a knife?” (“It was sick!” my friend said with a smile, clearly having gotten what he came for.) For the upcoming Snuff book tour, Palahniuk has signed over 1,000 blowup sex dolls that he will toss into the audience “to give people a chance to scream and yell and hyperventilate blowing them up.”

Snuff is about nothing but people — 600 of them. Porn star Cassie Wright wants to break the world record for “serial fornication” in a film called World Whore Three, but Palahniuk has cunningly placed her (and the sex itself) primarily offstage. The book is essentially the stories of three men waiting their turn. Mr. 72, a young Midwesterner who carries a bouquet of wilting flowers, believes he is Cassie’s long-lost son. Mr. 600 is an aging porn star who brought Cassie into the business but is so far gone he can’t even recognize himself on the closed-circuit televisions playing Cassie’s hits. Mr. 137, the most complicated of the three, is a gay television star who participated in his own all-male gang bang, and the revelation ended his career. By popping Viagra, he’s hoping to burnish his reputation — and recast his orientation — especially since he thinks Cassie will die while making the film.

Given Snuff’s raunchy setup, the novel reads more like theater than hard-core, unfolding through monologues threaded with tragic backstory. Not surprisingly, Snuff started out as a play, but “it was terrible,” Palahniuk says, so he reworked it as a novel. (Palahniuk writes fast: The first draft of Fight Club took him six weeks, as did his forthcoming novel Pygmy. He wrote Snuff in eight weeks.)

Palahniuk does an enormous amount of research for his books, and for Snuff’s source material he turned to Grace Quek (a.k.a. Annabel Chong) and her own “sextravaganza,” in which she, at age 22, engaged in 251 sex acts with 70 men over a period of 10 hours, captured in the documentary Sex: The Annabel Chong Story. Quek, then a gender studies graduate student at the University of Southern California, had been a victim of a gang rape as a young woman; she said she wanted to “take on the idea of the stud.” Palahniuk loved the ambiguity of her experience, hovering between empowerment and annihilation. “Was she exorcising her demons, or was she just being used?” he asks. “Derrida says that the undetermined, undecided thing carries enormous energy. So if I write and refuse to take a moral stand about Cassie and spoon-feed people, it’s much more dynamic. Readers need to seek out the company of other people to discuss the themes.” (Incidentally, Quek was never paid for the video, though she claims in the documentary that she “didn’t want the money.”)

To develop his themes, Palahniuk also conducts experiments in what he calls “crowd-seeding”: At parties he tells people what he’s working on and freely hands out his phone number to generate ideas. For Snuff, he says, “I had all these people calling night and day, offering porn titles, or hairdressers saying, ‘Did you know Lucille Ball did this thing with wooden toothpicks…?’ ” All of his books are packed with this group expertise “so that you feel like you’re learning,” he says. It’s the Google-era technique of novel writing: social composition. “I’m simultaneously testing my material or premise with people and tweaking it,” he says. “Plus, it’s a fun game and gives people a role to play.”

Five for: Ben Myers (published )

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1) Spam poetry seems to be an intersection between the highest (poetry) and lowest (spam) forms of writerly endeavours. Is that a fair assessment?
Yes, I think so. I see it as a place where poetry collides with commerce, with spectacularly bizarre results.

2) When did you hit on the idea of spam poetry?
I’ve been collecting spam e-mails since around about 1999, when I got my first e-mail account at home. I thought they were intriguing because on the one hand they would try and sell you some pills to increase the size of your penis, but when you actually read the content of the mail it might include an extract of text from, say Herman Melville or Jack London or some obscure crime writer. But because the extract would be all jumbled up, it was if the text had somehow been remixed and shat out down the wires of modernity.

For my own amusement I used to save them all, then edit them down into more digestible works of poetry. Out of this mess a new language emerged, where key words or images were repeated. On an obvious level they reminded me of the cut-up works of William Burroughs, but they also recalled the lyrics of The Mars Volta, a band who create their own hybrid words to form a new lexicon that is unlike any other in rock music. Then in about 2004 I started sharing these poems by posting them on various literary websites (always under the working title Increase The Size of Your Penis). When I investigated further it turned out there were many other people doing exactly the same, with very mixed results.

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3) How do you compose your spam poetry?
Because there is no set form I can only share how I approach writing such poetry. First of all, you need to turn off your spam filter and risk an influx of viruses. Fear not though, it will be worth it: computers are replaceable, poetry is forever. Only one in ten or so spam e-mails will be of interest, so discard the boring ones and concentrate on a good one. Keep the best lines, phrases or key words, then cut it down. Keep re-reading it and sooner or later something of interest might emerge – even if it just a line or two. For example I received an e-mail entitled ‘Videos Of Girls’ that was probably advertising porn and I extracted the following line: “And in comes the sun crow, timidly / drinking sulky cat sour milk sickness.” I still don’t know what it means, but it reminded me of TS Eliot, so I kept it. I think the key to a good spam poem is not what it says, but how it makes you feel. In this instance, ‘Videos Of Girls’ makes me feel slightly suggestible.

4) What’s the best (as in worst) spam you’ve ever been sent?
It’s all relative I suppose. Just because an e-mail may have the subject line ‘Just Imagine How Nice Your Huge Dick Will Look In Her Pretty Tight Pussyhole’ doesn’t mean it’s contents are actually offensive or doesn’t contain a great poem. That’s the strange thing about spam – it’s a moral lottery. That said, I have also read some really tedious spam poetry. I think the art is in the editing, not the cutting and pasting.

5) You’ve just published a book of spam poetry. How did that come about?
I collected some of my spam poems together and sent them to the very reputable Blackheath Books. Blackheath only publish beautiful hand-made, very limited edition books, an approach which is completely at odds with the disposable nature of spam poetry, but the publisher Geraint Hughes liked them. The next thing I knew he had printed the book. He is a great poet and an unsung hero of the literary underworld and everyone should pay his website a visit.

Spam: Email Inspired Poetry by Ben Myers is available to buy now from Blackheath Books.

Hamsters! Pigeons! Jaguars? (published )

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If I were in New York, I’d be going to the KGB Bar on Friday to hear Zachary German, Tony O’Neill and 3:AM‘s Tao Lin and Lee Rourke read from their latest works. Billed as “Resist, rebel, relax…ahh”, and with members of The Jaguar Uprising promising to fuck shit up—“I will hit you with a chair,” Tao is saying—it looks like it’s going to be a good one.

who: tony o’neill / lee rourke / tao lin / zachary german
what: resist, rebel, relax…ahh
where: kgb bar, 85 west 4th st, nyc
when: friday, 2 may 2008, 7.00pm

The schlock of the new (published )

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Tony O’Neill on horror director Jim Van Bebber:

Jim Van Bebber remains one of America’s most under-the-radar cinematic mavericks but here’s hoping the upcoming Visions of Hell DVD box set, which brings together both of his full-length movies as well as a collection of his short films and documentaries, changes that.

[..]

My Sweet Satan is based upon the true-life case of Ricky Casso, a drug-dealing teenager with an interest in hallucinogenics and Satanism, who takes bloody revenge on a friend who steals his money. It is an extremely intense film, filled with satanic imagery and blood, and without any of the irony or cringe-inducing humour that mar so many Hollywood horror efforts. In many ways, My Sweet Satan could be seen as a dry run for the epic The Manson Family.

That schizophrenic, bad-acid-trip of a movie retells the Manson legend from inside the family. The film actually looks like all of those terrible 60s grindhouse movies, with deliberately mismatched 16mm film stock, and drug scenes straight out of Alice in Acidland. However, this is a film with a deadly serious intent, sucking the viewer into the free love and drugs ethos of the 60s.

We watch how this dream turns into a nightmare of grotesque violence, all at the hands of a very convincing Charlie Manson. The scenes depicting the Tate-LaBianca murders are extremely harrowing and are, to my mind, the first ever cinematic portrayals of these crimes that do not glamorise Manson in the slightest, driving home the utter barbarity of the killings.

The box set also includes little-seen documentaries such as Doper (about someone who stays stoned 24 hours a day), and music videos for the likes of Skinny Puppy and Pantera. The Manson Family took 10 years to make, and Van Bebber reputedly took a job at his local Wendy’s to finish the project. This got me thinking that all directors should be forced to fund at least part of their projects by working in the fast-food industry. We might at least have fewer movies in the I Know Who Killed Me vein under those circumstances.

Further: Mark Kermode on The Manson Famiy / Graham Rae interviews Van Bebber / Crazy for Charlie, Van Bebber interviewed in The Montreal Mirror / Tony O’Neill presents A Salute to Video Nasties on Dennis Cooper‘s site

Adventures in stereo (published 29/04/2008)

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The BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop, best-known for the Doctor Who theme-tune, would have been 50 this month. The Magazine look at its legacy and have two original engineers, Dick Mills and Mark Ayers, recreate four famous sounds:

Deep in the bowels of BBC Maida Vale studios, behind a door marked B11, is all that’s left of an institution in British television history.

A green lampshade, an immersion tank and half a guitar lie forlornly on a shelf, above a couple of old synthesisers in a room full of electrical bric-a-brac.

These are the sad remnants of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, set up 50 years ago to create innovative sound effects and incidental music for radio and television.

The corporation initially only offered its founders a six-month contract, because it feared any longer in the throes of such creative and experimental exercises might make them ill.

Using reel-to-reel tape machines, early heroines such as Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire recorded everyday or strange sounds and then manipulated these by speeding up, slowing down or cutting the tape with razor blades and piecing it back together.

The sound of the Tardis was one sound engineer’s front-door key scraped across the bass strings on a broken piano. Other impromptu props included a lampshade, champagne corks and assorted cutlery.

Ten years ago the workshop was disbanded due to costs but its reputation as a Heath Robinson-style, pioneering force in sound is as strong as ever, acknowledged by ambient DJs like Aphex Twin.

Although much of its equipment has long been sold off, every sound and musical theme it created has been preserved. To mark its 50 years, there are plans for a CD box-set.

Further: Alchemists of Sound, a BBC documentary / Whomix / Radiophon-A-Tron, mix your own Doctor Who theme / Illustrated histories of various Recording Technologies (via Things)

The revolution will be pixelated (published 28/04/2008)

In Verbal, Darran Anderson considers the paper versus pixels debate:

It’s only in recent years that Internet publishing has become accessible and available enough to make a substantial impact. With free facilities such as Blogger and MySpace, the means of expression are now available to those who couldn’t afford, or didn’t have the expertise, to host a website.

With means of promotion and interaction offering an international dimension to online publishing, like-minded literary groups have coalesced and seized the initiative. Inspired by the outsider cool of Bukowski and Brautigan, many have seen it as a continuation of the underground fanzines of the 60s and the punk DIY ethic. Daring, irreverant and passionate, this new wave of writing has come under a variety of guises.

At one end of the spectrum is McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, a publishing dynamo captained by the young literary sensation Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius). Primarily known for it’s surreal, absurdist style, there’s no doubting it’s ingenuity and good humour (typical titles include “The Sadomasochistic Fisherman Visits Pyramid Lake”, “Mondays With Kafka” and “A Robot Performs Standup Comedy to a Lacklustre Response”).

For those finding McSweeney’s too fey or self-consciously wacky, there’s the edgy, eclectic writing of the Offbeat Generation. The loose collective term originates from Andrew Gallix, editor of 3:AM Magazine, a highly regarded cult website that has been lauded by the likes of Dazed & Confused and The Guardian ['Surfing the new literary wave']. Along with the likes of Scarecrow, Social Disease, The Beat and Susan Tomaselli’s Dogmatika, 3:AM have championed the new wave of writing and given a platform to young writers for whom Booker Prize lists are an irrelevance and who’ve been neglected by more established publishing outlets.

Some of the most exciting affliates have come in the form of The Brutalists, a provocatively honest trio of writers comprised of Adelle Stripe, Ben Myers and Tony O’Neill. Adapting a manifesto from punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue (“Here’s a chord. Here’s another. Now form a band.”) to their own writing equivalent (“w”), they’ve distributed copies of their first gritty collection Brutalist 1: Nowhere Fast, via the internet alongside editing their Straight from the Fridge site.

Speaking to Adelle, it’s clear how important the Internet is for the group, ‘Well firstly, it helped us hook up with each other – we read each other’s writing and found out we had a lot in common. Secondly, it has opened up our writing to a whole new readership internationally. Thirdly we can publish whatever we want, no holds barred, and also it doesn’t have to cost a penny.’

Given that writers can publish and engage with readers without the corporate involvement, there’s a theory that Internet publishing is a democratising process. Stripe wholeheartedly agrees, ‘Definitely. We are living in a new, unprecedented era as far as publishing goes. As the middle men have now been cut out, there is a closer relationship between writer and reader.’

Offbeat TV VII (published )

Who the fuck are The Offbeats? Andrew Gallix, 3:AM‘s editor-in-chief explains all:

Further: The Offbeat Generation / The Offbeat Generation Film Channel / Matthew Coleman reads ‘Dream Poem’ / Heidi James reads two pieces / Adelle Stripe reads 3 poems / Ben Myers reads four Brutalist poems / Matthew Coleman reads from Her Naked Self / Lee Rourke reads Everyday

Arts bite: The Brother (published )

There was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it exhibition of works by Miceal O Nuallain on in my home town recently. O Nuallain is of course the younger brother of Irish novelist Flann O’Brien and the exhibition, Memorabilia of Myles Na Gopaleen, was a tribute to the great humorist. Some of the best works in the show included a pastel drawing of O’Brien’s typewriter (an Underwood) and a watercolour of the hallway of 4 Avoca Terrace, Blackrock, as it was in 1948 and where O’Brien wrote some of his most-famous works—At Swim-Two-Brids and The Third Policeman, and as Myles na Gopaleen An Béal Bocht (The Poor Mouth) and his Cruiskeen Lawn column which ran in the Irish Times. A magnificent oil of Flann O’Brien [pictured, though my camera phone doesn't do it justice], the only known portrait of O’Brien at work, dominated Memorabilia, as did a portrait of Brendan Behan, a drinking buddy of O’Brien’s. Behan nudged his way into the exhibition more than once, also portrayed alongside Paddy Kavanagh and Maurice Walsh in a section of portraits on O’Brien’s friends; the good, the bad and the ugly of Irish Literature, if you like.

The highlight of Memorabilia for me, though, had to be the fourteen illustrations from Cruiskeen Lawn, drawn by O Nuallain under his pseudonym of “Kilroy” (what is it about these boys and their aliases?) with accompanying text by O’Brien, colourful illustrative explosions bringing out the best of Myles. In the catalogue O Nuallain explains this series:

“In the 1950s Brian stated that he was going to Tory Island to write a book and asked me to accompany him to illustrate it. To show him what I could do, I made fourteen illustrations using coloured inks in pen, brush and wash. At this point I received a large commission and could not go to Tory. Brian did not go either but he wrote the book which he titled The Hard Life and got his friend Sean O’Sullivan to illustrate it.”

Miceal O Nuallain had been planning first a biography, then a book of anecdotes on Flann O’Brien, but both, as far as I’m aware, have failed to materialise. Still, Memorabilia of Myles Na Gopaleen is a fitting enough tribute to “The Brother”, and as Anthony Burgess said, “If we don’t cherish the work of Flann O’Brien we are stupid fools who don’t deserve to have great men. Flann O’Brien is a very great man.”