As a recently-enlisted editorial assistant here at DB, my first task was to read through the previous issues of Drunken Boat. It was fortunate that I began exploring with DB10, as I was able to see ten years of the electronic literature DB has published. It was apparent that DB utilized technology by publishing online rather than mimicking a print journal. In DB2, Awe of World by Yael Kanarek capitalized on how you’re reading on a computer, using Flash to show a computer screen gone wrong. This, along with Visual Chaos by Jody Zellen, bring in a level of interactivity as viewers must figure out what–if anything–needs to be clicked to continue exploring the piece. The video art of Peter Alwast is perfectly suited to an online art journal.
Ethnopoetics was great for a project like DB, not only because audio companions to poetry is something unique to an online journal, but because of projects that push the boundaries like DIGILOGUE by Jonathan Minton in DB4, an eerie and instinctual piece. Computerized translations are set to load a new poem every 90 seconds–#590 is currently on my screen–as if the computer just wrote it up for me on the spot. Tamar Schori’s Beadgee from DB7 pushes the boundaries in a different direction. It is an intriguing interactive form of art that defies a name or genre.
DB10 continues to explore the possibilities of electronic literature and includes the Electronic Arts and Literature folio. That Night by Steve Ersinghaus and Jim Revillini reminds me of a poetic version of the old “choose your own adventure” stories. You have a hand in guiding yourself, although you’re not quite sure where the choices lead–the current text might jump to the bottom of the screen as more appears, or even be split apart as text appears in the middle–a unique way of creating repetition in poetry where words are not actually repeated, but guide your eyes through the words once more.
Back in the ROK by Young Hae-Chang Heavy Industries is an interesting mix between reading a poem to yourself and having a poem read out loud for you. While you read this poem yourself, both visual and aural effects have the ability to control the way you read it. The enveloping audio and the pulsing words surround the reader with the smells, sights, sounds, and feelings of the chaos of traffic.
Joseph Pascale’s short fiction has been published in 365 Tomorrows, Tweet the Meat, PicFic, and in three issues of the Prism literary journal of Centenary College where he is currently studying toward his Master of Arts degree in English Literature. He has fiction forthcoming in Thaumatrope, Off The Rocks, and Everyday Weirdness. Please visit his website http://josephpascale.pyraliss.com for additional information.
Jotham Burrello’s “Speed of Life” triggered a similar playground recollection: a race between Kurt West, the reigning champ who lived at the end of our street, and the new kid. Two teachers waited in right field, fifty yards down the first base line. Kick started from home plate with a shouted “Go,” they finished close enough to call it a draw. I called it an upset. Although I didn’t recognize it then, by sixth grade King Kurt’s best days were behind him. Burrello’s narrative is simpler: Run 40 yards and count the seconds. Yet even straightforward stories require some craft.
Ira Glass talked about his approach to radio stories at this summer’s Mayborn Writer’s Conference in Dallas, Texas. Glass, of NPR’s “All Things Considered” said, “A story is really about motion. This thing leads to this thing which leads to this thing. And when you start any sequence of actions into motion, simply by the accretion of these facts you can tell it has a destination.” But a good tale needs more than motion; it also needs an idea, a wider connection.
Glass then extended the sequence: this happened, this happened, this happened, and then you need a thought. The story teller stops periodically, steps out and comments on the action. Space and time expand. He told us he discovered this through trial and error while editing tapes. Only later did he realize that rabbis use the same template. In the end, like the finish to a race, the plot and thoughts should lead to an idea that surprises us. Finding the right combination is game of chance.
Glass told us that he spends about half his time looking for new material. For a weekly show, they might start out with fifteen concepts, produce seven and air only three. “Sometimes you get lucky,” he said, and by asking enough questions, the interviewee might cough up the idea. But just as often, you’re left with only an interesting anecdote. Anyone writing nonfiction knows to keep trying until either the unexpected happens or you toss the essay aside.
If Burrello tried many things, he also left much in. In this essay about time, Burrello pulls in maximum heart rates, the Slow Food Movement and Thorton Wilder’s Our Town. He may only cover about forty yards in front of his house, but imaginatively he ranges widely. I liked that.
Another essayist who explored the world of ideas broadly was Susan Sontag. A recently released book, Notes On Sontag, by Phillip Lopate reviewed her literary accomplishments. In Sontag’s title essay from “Under the Sign of Saturn”, Lopate marveled at her technique for: “piling idea upon idea, so that each insight builds on the all the previous ones.” During an interview, I asked Lopate, a well-regarded personal essayist, about their different approaches to writing. “I would characterize the difference in our writing styles and personalities as: she was an enthusiast, I am skeptic,” he said. “My skepticism involves thinking against myself, doubting myself and arguing with myself, whereas she tended to back a position hard, never looking back.”
I can identify with both styles. Although the “on the other hand” approach appeals to my reading ear, my writing can sometimes be too one-sided. I find ideas easy to generate, but hard to evaluate. They trouble me late into the night. Once, in an essay on springs, I included the Trevi Fountain, honoring the discovery of earth’s water cycle, to hint at the theme of renewal. “Too thin,” said most readers. I had used solo voices where I needed a chorus. With ideas, perhaps like music, there is a rightness that resists a formula.
The right mix of ideas is always difficult to judge. It seems to me that Burrello falls somewhere in between Sontag and Lopate. His positions are mostly fact based while his thoughts are suggestive rather than pronouncements. Somehow it works.
In the end, I suppose, good ideas should create their own kind of motion. Their destination, however, seems much more elusive.
by Jeff DeLargy, Nonfiction Genre Reader
Drunken Boat is pleased to announce that we will be re-opening submissions in ALL genres on September 21st. You can visit www.drunkenboat.com/submissions/index.php for more information.
We’re also looking for submissions for the DB11 folio “Life in a Time of Contractions:”
Please submit 1000 words or less of prose (no poetry). We’re looking for nonfiction perspectives from around the world on the effect of the global economic crisis. How has your life, your family’s, friends’ and neighbors’ lives changed in the last year? Are these changes positive, negative, or mixed? Are they likely to last? Tell us. Email Leslie McGrath at leslie @ drunkenboat.com for more information.
One of our intrepid editorial assistants, Brett Haymaker, is bravely baring all for Drunken Boat in the upcoming Philly Naked Bike Ride on September 6th. Haymaker, a graduate of Hofstra University, plans to do the ride wearing only the www.drunkenboat.com link. If you’re in the Philadephia area that day, come on down and cheer him on!