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'?