Thursday, February 04, 2010

Notes from the literary underground

Long ago, I was a Teaching Master in Writing. I had a secretary and a receptionist and a computer hard drive full of emails from important living novelists whose work I lectured about. I was still in that circle, but they had stopped making contributions to Island Grove Press, my publishing company , which was largely for my students, though I certainly welcomed contributions from the Big Cats--when I could afford them. I think those established writers were still smarting from suddenly being rejected by snotty small press editors, even after years of overground literary success. The problem? Belle Lettrism.
Well, dog my cat. Weren't their letters supposed to be belle?
Wasn't Graeme Gibson, Margaret Atwood's husband, a fine writer?
Or how about Harry J. Boyle, whose Great Canadian Novel actually, was!
Nope, said the small press editors. That's belle lettrism, in the Frank Harris Edwardian English tradition-- fine writing, sort of like Margaret Atwood when she does reviews of other people's work.

When I learned of this arrogance on the part of the small press editors I began to think of those little magazine cyphers -- so mean in spirit and so low in stature--that I wanted to kick their ass....Especially when they actually rejected Robertson Davies, possibly the fines belle lettrist in the world. Ever.

And besides, did I myself now have a chance? Well, maybe. I was so post-modern, I could probably write "Fuck You", a novel by Ivan Prokopchuk and get away with it....But I was well known as a literary loose cannon in the Toronto circles....And I'd certainly had my share of rejections....And definitely not belle lettrist. And so minimalist as to be almost penis-parvis, or, like all the Canadian lady writers, who, with some trans-gender exceptions, were definitely penis-minus. (I was charmed, by he way, when Margaret Atwood described in a review, John Updike as a penis with the thesaurus, but I digress).
The Canadian novel format went: Young girl,
preferably aboriginal, and with problems, growing up in a redneck Northern Ontario town where men were men and so were half the women.
This was already done in the forties by a man named Reid, from a man's point of view, but everybody forgot.

So the entire Canadian modernist literary movement was retrograde, and the really good writers were considered belle-lettrists.
So, Mr. Robertson Davies, we want no business with that novel of yours, "Fifth Business", though it was considered a masterpiece all over the world.

Little Hitlers, little corporals...."We don't get no disease of the privates, 'cause we's corporals."

Recently, I got a comment on one of my blogs where I spoke about someone writing about a cockroach (Again?)-- and he said I should stop blogging, produce something somebody might want to read, and cease my slagging of authors who were postmodernist (real assholes from Toronto who thought themselves as... Franz Kafka?)
It was probably a small magazine editor who had commented thus, adding that if my work were ever to cross his desk, I would be dead meat from the word go.

All fine and good, but in his two-paragraph comment, I could spot eight stylistic and spelling mistakes, and he really should take a course in belle lettrism!

Literature in Canada is politics.
And if you publish independently, world-wide, no way we're gonna get you a grant. We worked hard, brown-nosed long to get our $40,000 Canada Council grants every year, certainly as publishers. Who said anything about writin'?



the walking man said...

Poetry for Pussy Ivan Novels for all sounds like the same game because the talented get screwed in the end and painted with the same brush as the shit stained brown nose bags of literary tripe. Who need a formula to follow and the first original thought is something along the line of...The Equation consists of following the equation.

Charles Gramlich said...

There's politics at every level of the writing biz, just different politics at the top and the bottom. Talent does get screwed sometimes, although you have to admit that at times talent screws itself. Sometimes talent makes it through though. At least i like to believe that.

ivan@! said...



...Or being a mathematical primitive like me, taking X.25 and having it calculated out to 02, only to find that George Boole had already gotten to it at around 1840...The startling realization that finally, through algebra, even Boolean, numbers can say what you want them to say. But we're kinda stuck on computer O and 1 (after George Boole) and I guess,following the equation. said...


I'd better make the following a general statement rather than addressing it to you.

Yes, at every level. The In groups and Out groups...And there seems no end to the artistic or political power hiararchy. Those "in" are considered "out" by their next higher up group,and those higher up are still considered out by an even a nigher group.
But I guess you know that,being a psychologist.
Yet it burns me up when the custodians of Canadian literature are better at politics than writing. More money in politics-- writing about sensitive young girls among the awful men everywhere rather than the terrible, unconsciable sellout of Canada. Some of them are outrightly illiterate, I swear, though they do follow the fomula of unbranded jeans Birkenstock boots and living in fashionable brownsone Montreal apartments on our tax dollars and no book sales, while harboring what my wife once termed "dikey independence fantasies." But they all seem to have husbands... I mean, what are you, a lesbian?

benjibopper said...

as the great bard mr. dylan said, we live in a political world. also, everything is broken.

while we're beefing, here's mine: where's the urban lit in this country? we have fewer bestselling books about city life than we have cities, for chrissakes.

ivan@c said...


I agree.
And maybe a cheap shot:

We know all about modern urban life all over the world,even Calcutta pavement dwellers, through expatriate authors, but few either dare or are allowed to write, say, beautiful novels about Toronto.
There is probably more editorial freedom in Halifax.
But authors are muzzled. You can only write about your own ethnic group!
So George Riga would be pilloried today for his study of aboriginal people today, say, in his Luck of Damita Joe.
You are allowed to be angry, but only over the politically correct things.

TomCat said...

Ivan, did you see, History of the World, Part II? This reminds me of the first art critic.

ivan@c said...

Stoned agin'?

benjibopper said...

Sad to say it's worse in Halifax. I can think of only one local publisher that tends to put out urban fiction, and it's a fairly new one with a young owner. Mostly the obsession is on fishing villages, which very few of us actually live in anymore. Hey, nothing wrong with a good fishing story, but there's so much more to this place. said...

Durn right there is something more to Halifax. It is iconic, but now certainly modern (postmodern?) and of course, urban. It needs a present-day literature.

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Anonymous said...

Please see the below letter sent to me by one of our supporters. I have posted it on our website. I've omitted her name and the company involved - however I will reveal that it's a big box "membership" type workplace without a union. We would be very interested to get feedback and suggestions or action from anyone interested to.

Tom Pearson, Chairman, Poverty Action for Change Coalition

Her letter - God bless you for what you are doing for other people who want to speak but they don't know how?

We are doing fine, I went for the seasonal(work) and thanks be to God they kept me so now I am limited part time, in (withheld) that is a level before becoming a part time employee.

Tom I know that in the world whoever has more money has more power, but is it true that customer has right to hurt you and insult you in this country no matter what? My family and I have lots of respects for people for they are precious, and we believe that no one has right to put anybody down for everybody has dignity. We chose to live in this country for it was built on Bible, love your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as you love yourself.

I believe no one has right to hurt the person who is serving them. If the person who is serving the customer makes mistake or steal from him/her there is a way to deal with it, but if customer is served properly s/he has no right to be rude to the one who is serving them. At (withheld)I have met people who are racist and they hate me to touch their stuff at(withheld), I have seen customers who were swearing at the employee, the man who was doing his job professionally. With this recession those who have money are getting more power for they know no matter what they tell to the customer server s/he has to say nothing for s/he will lose her job.

Tom, I want to stand against this pressure, the customer and the one who pays money has no right to discriminate, insult and put down the one who is serving them properly. When the customers hurt me I keep it in myself, thanks be to God I have good co-workers that I can talk to them and they will tell me that it is ok (name withheld)we are experiencing this insult everyday but we have to let it go.

I am a very patient person Tom, since we were kids we learned how to survive during revolution, war and persecution. In age 15 we learned how to use gun to protect ourselves and we learned that we have to survive. I love this country for it was built on Bible, the slavery was destroyed in this country, that's why I can not keep quiet. I can't see that a single mother who has lots of problem with court and house comes to work to provide for their family and then one person with no dignity and manner insults her for s/he has money and s/he knows that the employees are s/her slaves.

Tom, this is not right in Canada, or anywhere else. Everybody is worthy and has to be respected, this is the rule of Canada, am I right?
Brother please tell me is Canada moving to become Iran, India or China?

You and your colleagues are always in my prayer.

Thanks for your time

Name withheld to protect her job said...


I feel your pain.

It's quite a drop from teacher to food bank...Didn't complete my paperwork for the pension. A Catch 22 in there.
Gotta keep on working at the temp job, though.
If I'm lucky, they might promote me to waiter. :)

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