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Drew Burk — A review we missed.


My wife just forwarded this on to me. It's not available online (correction: Mather gave us a link... it's here, slightly different, with a real humdinger of a sum-up -- "I am sickened when I finally finish Spork, and I think about the people who applaud such work. Who are they? A race of protected snobs ensconced in the plush chairs of expensive clubs, pinkies raised on their tea cups like the slimy red hard-ons of their homosexual lapdogs."), she got it though WorldCat. And now we're making it available to you. The review in question is talking about issue 5.1. I'm a protected snob doing trained seal exercises in the plush chairs of my private club! I didn't know! I'm so excited. All this time I thought I was going to work, slaving away at whatever jobs I could get to pay for the stuff to make the things we make. Also, honestly, and seriously, though I question his motives, I do appreciate it when folk say what they feel they have to say. The review is from The American Dissident, the winter/spring issue of 2009. Thanks for the shout-out, Mather!

Notes on Spork and Pretentious Literary Journals Everywhere by Mather Schneider

The journal Spork is incredibly and unnecessarily durable, like it’s been hand-made by medieval boot-sewers, or the military maybe, with thick hard cardboard covers, stiff manila paper and stitching as strong as marlin line. Its toughness is a gross overcompensation for the delicate, sugar-crystal writing that is inside. Two professors could tug-of-war with it all day and get nowhere.
     You know a journal is big-time when you can’t pronounce half the names in the table of contents. Everyone has a drowsy, androgynous air coming off them, flatulent with minor awards and prescription medication: Julie Doxsee, Kristin Iskandrian, Beth Toener, (the ’e’ has two dots over it) Aurelie Sheehan, Tristan Emmer... Is there an echo in here?
     Richard Siken, the editor, could teach the Buddha a thing or two. Siken opens the journal by bestowing upon us 3 pages of navel-gazing in the form of a wishy-washy, post modernist interpretation of Hansel and Gretel. He’s superwow-fashionable, says all the right things, that is, says nothing, takes no stance or risk, admiring himself all the while, loving the sound of his voice, crawling around like a toddler in his own word-dung. To quote him: “Sleeping, waking, crying, the moon rising, the crumbs gone. The narrator blames the birds. And you want to blame the birds as well. I blamed the birds for a long time. But in this story everyone is hungry, even the birds. And at this point in the story so many things have gone wrong, so many bad decisions made, that it’s a wonder anyone would want to continue reading.”

Spork is a caricature of itself. It’s so artsy, it’s art stillborn. Is it just me or is there something pretentious about beginning your journal with page 1,647? It’s all part of the ENDLESS CONTINUUM, dude! Siken thinks of Spork as a kind of map made to get you lost. His great, life-affirming idea is that each copy of the same edition is slightly different in content. How mysterious! No wonder a 20-dollar subscription yielded me two copies of the same issue. I pull the other copy I received out of the garbage and take a look. It’s true: many of the pages are the same, but some are different. My retinas ache from the epiphany.
     Following Siken’s intro, Julie Doxsee tests our mettle with her gauntlet of garbled prose poems. If we are not illuminated by her random dream drool then we are true idiots. Shut up and listen, plebeian: “When eyes meet they don’t touch. When I shuffle the ledge, my skin in the night opens.” If the first one doesn’t satisfy your craving for stoned-teenager-thought-sequences, there are five more just like it.
     Maria Robinson has written a story called “Homunculus”. I guess it never occurred to her just how derivative and ridiculously poetic and put-on a word like that sounds. She is one of those modern writers, like Stacey Richter, who are comfortable, over-educated and dull as valium. They specialize in avoiding real emotion while cleverly trying to drum up false. I always wonder how some narrator, who is supposedly in such pain, so out of her mind with anxiety and inner turmoil, simply DYING from LONELINESS or some tragic life-blow, I always wonder how she can take the time to tell the story in this over-crafted, self conscious, I’m-so-cool way. This isn’t the voice of a natural humanity, this isn’t a real heart beating, this isn’t the simple truth told openly, this is “Tricks I Learned in Writing School”; this is “Be A Goodfellow And Pretend With Me That This Is New and Wonderful”.

Maria’s story begins: “Immediately following my miscarriage, my brain took off on a week-long vacation.” What is this, a comedy? How flippant! Immediately you know it’s all make-believe, and nothing is at stake. How falsely wry, how unaffected, how superior even to nature, to pain. I can’t believe anything she says from here on out. No doubt she’s trying to “hook” the reader. The narrator’s emotions are too strong and complex to deal with directly, so she has this little fantasy instead: her brain goes on vacation and her pain becomes symbolic. Pretty much anything is acceptable from this point on. How pat, how handy! And a lot easier to write too. You get to keep your hands clean. Only problem is: it’s tired reading. All this “wit” is simply not funny. There’s no detectable pulse.
     Sometimes, for lack of understanding or compassion or anything real to say, these writers will try to shock us. Roars Maria: “I had to piss, and I decided to do it standing up—"the hell with sitting down!” After this she finds a bloody part of her miscarriage in the toilet, and names it Tiny. It’s just a big, bad, morbid joke, costumed properly in a union workshop. I know she thinks her “art” is filled with powerful irony, but in my mind it’s a fraud, a cop out. It’s filled with rot.

Later in the journal Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis has collaborated with Caleb Adler to write “I Don’t Know How Many Souls You Have, My Feathered Fernando” and “Ourselves Woo Yourselves, Pretty Bird“. Notice how the two authors blend their voices so harmonically in stanzas like this one: “Semiotic bird/object-coding Barthes’ bliss/einfuhlung abates.” All of the pieces seem to be excerpted from longer works, such as Kristi Maxwell’s “Log of Dead Birds” spanning ten pages, which is a lot of dead birds by anybody’s standards, but still only a small part, we are to understand, of the greater whole. There is also “A Sci-Fi Lesbian Pirate Bodice-Ripper” by Trista Emmer, which is taken from her longer work “No Normal Love“. This piece starts in “Part the Fourteenth“, moves on to “Part the Twelfth” and then through “Part the Third“, “the Seventeenth“, “the Twenty-Sixth“, “the Sixteenth“, “the Twenty Third“, “the Fourth“, “the First“, “the Forty-eighth“, and finally “Part the Fifty-second“. In other copies of the same issue the order is different, but they will leave you just as brain dead after you read them.
     John Emil Vincent has a five page piece called “from Girls in Reruns, Deleted Scenes, K: Barb’s egg salad.” His voice is like a fart-flame in the dark: “And it seemed a shame/she chose-/what with the devoted/and treasured/cut-glass dishes-/not to devil them.” I skip to the back to read his bio: “John Emil Vincent is Assistant Professor of English and American Studies at Wesleyan University and the author of ’Queer Lyrics: Difficulty and Closure in American Poetry’“.
     These are our geniuses. They think they are geniuses, why else would they write like this? Their words don’t touch anything concrete or relevant, anything real, and reality is the window to the soul. It’s like some kind of two-bit circus they’re putting on, gummy seats, troweled make-up, condescension and indifference, flies buzzing everywhere, drag queens, hermaphrodites, lion tamers poking their chairs at corpses, decrepit animals jumping through hoops, bored, superior clowns, and the admission too high, at least 50 grand to get all the way through to PHD. They are protected snobs doing trained seal exercises in the plush chairs of their private clubs, pinkies raised stiff like the slimy red hard-ons of their homosexual lapdogs. How bored and hopeless and empty their lives must be, that they devote themselves to this, and get such a kick out of it that they end up crowning themselves kings. It gets them posts and awards and money and the chance to be around people who do nothing but agree with them; this is what makes them happy, a happiness that is disgusting and cheap, a tinsel happiness good only to decorate a grave.

Mather Schneider's first full-length book of poetry, Drought Resistant Strain is available from Interior Noise Press. You can read his thoughts about other stuff at his blog.