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I am much more excited about the unauthorized Oprah biography by Kitty Kelley (she of the unauthorized Bush family biography) than I am about Yann Martel’s anticipated follow-up to Life of Pi. This perhaps makes me a poor candidate to make a sophisticated contribution to the argument about video games as art. But here goes.

Blogs. Thanks to the rise of this medium, teenage drama can burst forth from previously confined walls, stay-at-home moms can make millions of dollars, and print reporters have the freedom to wander from the scope of their bylines. Hence, we get Roger Ebert mulling video games, a topic he has apparently addressed once before but has now found reason to resurrect the matter for a blog post.

I love Mr. Ebert. Having grown up with At the Movies, not only have I enjoyed his reviews (whether or not I agreed with them), but over time, I have learned more about him, not simply as the critic, but as the man. He’s actually quite down-to-earth — a homeboy, to speak in my generation. He’s drawn to powerful women: he once dated Oprah, and he eventually married an attorney. And the only Star Trek movie he has ever seemed to like is First Contact, though I enjoyed the sour looks — short of giggling, rather than snickering, such is the homeboy that he is — he would give the late Gene Siskel (who struck me as a Trekkie closeted in the shroud of a film critic). When Mr. Ebert fell ill, I rooted for his survival. Remember the penultimate episode of The Golden Girls? It was a two-parter that found Rose imagining what it would be like if they all got cryogenically frozen and then woke up 100 years later. Can Mr. Ebert join them?

So, I love Mr. Ebert, but I get antsy at the thought of debating the artistic merit of video games. Full disclosure: until recently, I, myself, have hesitated to apply the ‘A’ word to the medium — and perhaps video games should be classified as a medium rather than an art. Newspapers, for example, are not art. But often, the writing contained in them is art, and the newspaper is the medium on which the writing is transmitted. Really, we can spend all day getting deep into semantics: love can be expressed through sex, but sex isn’t love. Sex is pleasure. Love is devotion. And on, and on…

As the Mr. Ebert’s post continues, Kellee Santiago’s points of reference are worrisome: for example, a video game called Waco Resurrection.

Yes, that Waco.

By the end of Mr. Ebert’s post, the conclusions are foregone. Santiago is a video game producer and designer, after all, so you can’t expect her to argue against her industry. Another conclusion that Ebert ponders is that of validation. He asks: “Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art?” In asking that question, he has addressed an immemorial enormity. Art is the enduring conflict of self-expression made empathetic.

My circle of friends is dominated by video gamers. My own interest in the medium waned dramatically after middle school, and now all that’s left is a lingering (if passionate) devotion to Nintendo’s DS Lite. But I’ve never felt compelled to turn up my nose at video games or my video game friends. In fact, sometimes I play the games with them. The games are fun, and sometimes they can even be mentally stimulating. Are they art?

I don’t know.

Recently, I attended (of my own volition, separate from my duties here at DB) an art showing entitled “Into the Pixel”. (Click here for my pictures on my personal writing site.) Held concurrently with the annual Game Developers Conference, “Into the Pixel” is described as this: The world’s only juried art exhibition that brings together experts from the traditional fine art world with interactive entertainment industry veterans to explore the art of the video game. There was certainly some good art at the showing, but “Into the Pixel” doesn’t resolve the argument. There were no actual video games, just details of individual video games. The details themselves might be considered art, but the jury is still out on the video game.

If we are to agree with Plato’s definition of art, then the video game is uniformly disqualified because it exists to exaggerate — seriously, how many of us have spent our natural lives carjacking through a sprawling urban metropolis ala Grand Theft Auto? So is the audience touched by video games? I don’t know how well McKee’s definition would apply here, since video gamers aren’t so much “touched” as they are assimilated. In a video game, you are suddenly in another world, and you must adapt to the mechanics of that world.  But are you stirred into emotion and expression? Are you motivated to examine deeper meanings and uncover new truths? No, you just want to play and have a good time. There’s nothing wrong with that.

The trouble with the video game as art argument is that it is hierarchal. Certainly, like any other artist, the video gamer has a need for validation. But for this setup, the video gamer must exist at the bottom rung of some artistic ladder, and someone like Mr. Ebert is perched the top. Ultimately, this is all a pissing contest — yes, that was a bit ineloquent, just like my cheeky subject title in response to Mr. Ebert’s post.

Perhaps it’s better for the video game to merit its own classification and separately exist from art. If it was to join the ranks of the novel and the sculpture, then it would be subject to the scrutinies of establishment — good art, bad art. McCarthy versus Sparks, as Mr. Ebert notes. (For the record, I loved The Road. Yet also liked Dear John — though that probably will be the first and last Sparks novel I ever read.) Maybe the video game doesn’t want, or shouldn’t want, to be part of all that. It should be own its entity: an explosive new hybrid of art and medium. But if we’re going to play with hierarchies, with good art and bad art, then let me make a personal play by expressing my disbelief at some of the doozies that have made it into Drunken Boat

One more thing before I go back to my Kitty Kelley. Mr. Ebert is probably right about baseball. It is not an art. Baseball is a religion.

Thank you. Have a nice day.

By Joe Ramelo, Social Media Assistant.

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Published Apr 19, 2010 - Comments Off

Note: For all photos, click for larger size.

Unless you attended AWP last week — alas, I couldn’t get away long enough from my job of looking for a job — we may never know why, exactly, pink bunnies populated the off-site reading event that Drunken Boat co-hosted at the Dikeou Collection with our wonderful colleagues at Guernica, POOL, Counterpath Press, and Persea Books.

Given a choice, would you rather see Ravi giving a reading…

…or in the throes of a creature that would be otherwise fairly innocuous if only it wasn’t ginormously supersized?

In the immortal words of George Takei, “Oh my”…

…because, apparently, it wasn’t just Ravi.

As the cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer put it, “There’s nothing we can’t face — except for bunnies.”

By Joe Ramelo, Social Media Assistant.

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Published Apr 15, 2010 - Comments Off

Our Managing Editors have returned from the AWP conference in Denver, and via Facebook, Leslie quickly reports that it was “relaxed and enjoyable”. Good to know!

Recently, I spoke with Rob Ray, our new Art Editor. Of course, in the literary and arts worlds, we’re accustomed to writing and perusing bios. So, in addition to Rob’s sterling list of accomplishments, I wanted to know the most important fact of all. It’s even more important than his education and recent artistic works: Rob, what do you do when you’re standing at a pedestrian crosswalk? Do you wait until traffic is clear and then walk ahead on your own, without aid of the signals? Or, like our New York brethren, do you just keep punching along, crosswalk or no crosswalk?

“At first, I thought that was a tough question,” he says, “until I realized the only time I can recall waiting at an intersection is because there is a car coming. Which means… I just go on as soon as there’s no traffic.”

Oh, Rob. You like to live on the wild side. As for me,  I usually obey the signals, although 90 percent of the time I like to punch through the crowd. See, I’m partly New York (aggressive), partly San Francisco (mellow), but all cosmopolitan. At any rate, here’s more about Rob:

ROB RAY examines technology in public and outdoor spaces. This examination results in interactive public artworks, experimental films and audio works.

His most recent interactive work, GET LOST! was commissioned by the Abandon Normal Devices Festival in Cumbria and Lancashire, UK. His video game disguised as ATM, Bucky’s Animal Spirit, was selected for the art.tech exhibition at The Lab (San Francisco), and the (re)load exhibition at Antena (Chicago). Other recent exhibitions include the Without You I’m Nothing show at Green Lantern Gallery (Chicago) and the Squirrel! exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center at Woodside (Troy, NY).

Recent filmworks include Canaries in the Coalmine, exhibited at the Onion City Film Festival (Chicago) and winner of the DIGIT 2009 Excellence in Cinematography prize.

Rob also collaborates with Jason Soliday and Jon Satrom as a member of the Chicago-based circuit-bent multimedia noise trio I Love Presets.

From 1999 to 2008, Rob was founder and head curator of DEADTECH electronic arts center in Chicago. DEADTECH’s unique curatorial vision, residency program, and exhibition and workshop spaces were all created to cater to the specific needs of the electronic artist and performer. DEADTECH exhibited artists from across the globe including the Beige Programming Ensemble, Trevor Paglen, Norman White, Kevin Drumm, T.V. Pow and Kazuyuki K. Null.

Rob is currently attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Electronic Arts MFA program in Troy, NY.

Ever watch The Simpsons? Rob has been known to greet an audience with, “Hi everybody!”

If Rob decides to feign eligibility in the carpool lane by riding with cadavers, I won’t be surprised. After all, isn’t that just the next logical step after disobeying crosswalk signals…?

In all seriousness, welcome to Drunken Boat, Rob!

By Joe “Lionel Hutz” Ramelo, Social Media Assistant.

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Published Apr 14, 2010 - Comments Off

The Association of Writers & Writing Programs’ annual conference is in full swing. Drunken Boat is in Denver, this year’s conference site, with a table at the conference as well as mixing and mingling with the best and the brightest teachers and writers. Among those in attendance is Peter Strange Yumi, present at tonight’s off-site Drunken Boat reading event. Take a look at his work in lung infection, and then his visual work with Kate Greenstreet in Pink Statues. In both visuals, there is a constant theme of distant sentimentality: the notion that we have displaced ourselves with such mastery that this distance seems naturally evolved from empathy. It’s saying I love you, sounding like you don’t mean it, but you do. You really do, and to prove it, you might pierce a lung or paint with blood. Come see Peter and a roster of other great talent at the Dikeou Collection event tonight. To RSVP, as well as interact with other Drunken Boat readers and pull up the address and map of the event, find us on Facebook!

AWP Reading featuring Counterpath Books, Drunken Boat, Guernica, POOL and Persea Books

At the Dikeou Collection

On Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

From 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm

Location: Dikeou Collection (just blocks from AWP Conference Hotel)

1615 California St.

Suite 515

Denver, CO 80202

Phone: 303.623.3001

Website: www.dikeoucollection.com

From : 7:00 to 9:00 pm on Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

COUNTERPATH

Laird Hunt will read from his translation of Oliver Rohe’s Vacant Lot. Called “one of the most talented young writers on the American scene today” by Paul Auster, Hunt is the author of four genre-bending novels: The Impossibly, The Exquisite, Ray of the Star, and Indiana, Indiana. His books have been translated and released in France, Italy, and Japan, and his work has also appeared in several recent anthologies.

Steve Katz will read from his forthcoming autobiographical work, Time’s Wallet. Any reader or writer interested in the boundary waters of fiction should know Steve Katz; whatever bay you are paddling, he has probably paddled through it before. An original founder of Fiction Collective—which, with its spawn FC2, has published a tremendous cross-section of America’s experimental fiction of the past three decades—he has maintained since The Exagggerations of Peter Prince (1968) a well-deserved reputation as one of our most innovative writers.

DRUNKEN BOAT

Irina Reyn is the author of the novel What Happened to Anna K. She is also the editor of the nonfiction anthology, Living on the Edge of the World: New Jersey Writers Take on the Garden State. Her work has appeared in publications such as One Story, Tin House, Post Road, Poets & Writers, and many others. She is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh.

Robin Beth Schaer is the recipient of fellowships from the Saltonstall Foundation and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her poetry has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Barrow Street, Drunken Boat, and Washington Square, among others, and recordings of her work are featured on From the Fishouse. She has taught at Columbia University, Cooper Union, and Marymount, and worked as a deckhand aboard the HMS Bounty.

Peter Strange Yumi is an artist-musician who lives somewhere in the American west. His work is inspired from the works of contemporary poets and his love of cowboy culture, including whiskey, cigarettes, transcendental meditation, and rodeos. He is an MFA candidate at Mass Arts in Boston. More of his work can be seen and heard at his internet home peteryumi.wordpress.com.

GUERNICA

Elizabeth Kadetsky’s personal essays and short stories have appeared in recent issues of Antioch Review, TriQuarterly, Best New American Voices and the Pushcart Prizes Anthology. As a narrative journalist, she has published in the Nation, Ms Magazine, Self and elsewhere, and her memoir with Little Brown, based on a year she lived in India as a Fulbright Scholar, came out in 2004. She is a graduate of the MFA program in fiction at UC Irvine and the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, and is currently visiting assistant professor in the MFA creative writing program at Penn State.

Alexander Chee was born in Rhode Island, and raised in South Korea, Guam and Maine. He is a recipient of the 2003 Whiting Writers’ Award, a 2004 NEA Fellowship in Fiction and residencies from the MacDowell Colony, Ledig House and the VCCA. His first novel, Edinburgh (Picador, 2002), is a winner of the Michener Copernicus Prize, the AAWW Lit Award and the Lambda Editor’s Choice Prize, and was a Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of the Year and a Booksense 76 selection. In 2003, Out Magazine honored him as one of their 100 Most Influential People of the Year. His essays and stories have appeared in Granta.com, Guernica, The Morning News and Out. He is a graduate of Wesleyan University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and has taught fiction writing at the New School University and Wesleyan. He is currently the Visiting Writer at Amherst College and lives in Western Massachusetts. His second novel, The Queen of the Night, is forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. He blogs at Koreanish.

Susan Taylor Chehak is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers Workshop and the author of five novels, including Smithereens (a Hammett Award nominee), The Truth About Annie D. (an Edgar Award nominee and New York Times Notable Book), and Harmony (a Literary Guild Editor’s Choice), as well as a book of nonfiction, Don Quixote Meets the Mob: The Craft of Fiction and the Art of Life. Her short stories have appeared in Guernica Magazine, L.A. Under The Influence, Sisters in Crime 5, and The Chariton Review. She teaches fiction writing in the low residency MFA program at Antioch University, Los Angeles, as well as in The UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and the Summer Writing Festival at the University of Iowa. Susan grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, spends as much time as possible in Colorado — where she owns inxpot, a coffeehouse/bookstore/bar in the ski resort of Keystone — and at present is living in Los Angeles.

PERSEA

Elizabeth Bradfield is the author of Interpretive Work, which won the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry, and Approaching Ice, a finalist for the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. As a naturalist, she has worked in Alaska, the Eastern Canadian Arctic and elsewhere. She lives on Cape Cod.

Dylan Landis is the author of Normal People Don’t Live Like This, “a lean, beguiling novel in stories” (Bookforum).  She has published fiction in Bomb, Tin House, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and elsewhere. A former journalist, she has won a Poets & Writers California Voices Award and other honors for her fiction. She lives in Washington, DC.

POOL

Dean Rader is the recipient of the 2010 T. S. Eliot Prize for poetry for his book Works & Days.  Recent poetry appears in POOL, Salamander, Quarterly West, Poet Lore, and elsewhere, and his poem “Hesiod in Oklahoma, 1934” won the 2009 Sow’s Ear Review Poetry Prize.  He blogs at weeklyrader.blogspot.com and is an asscociate professor at the University of San Francisco.

Karen Holman received her MFA from University of Iowa where she served on the editorial staff of Iowa Woman. Her poetry can be found in Sentence, Pavement, Berkeley Poetry Review, Distillery, Tattoo Highway and POOL and featured in New Poets, New Books IV, edited by Marvin Bell from Lost Horse Press.  A social worker, she lives in Detroit with her husband and cat.

Click for the full image.

Hope to see you there!

Upper image credit: Dikeou Collection release.

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Published Apr 07, 2010 - Comments Off

Pssst… AWP is coming. Stay tuned!


New York City simultaneously promises the world and breaks the rules. In moments of reduced motion or stillness — trapped in the back of a cab that is stuck in traffic, or meandering through a congested crosswalk and wishing you could just walk over everyone in front of you — the city continues to move, seemingly at its fastest.

Check out Jacob Kedzierski’s two photos — how they trace the line from rest to stillness. The line traces such a circular pattern as to become a single shape, an entity that is one and the same. Granted: the setting in both photos could be any metropolis. But anyone familiar with the varied color schemes of MTA subway cars will recognize the second photo and, as to the first photo, the NYC Taxi logo is discernible upon close inspection. It’s at this point that New York City becomes the stand-in, not just for any city, but for life itself. In the first photo, take a look at the transition between pavement and traffic. Alone, the pavement is simply an empty space. Alone, traffic is simply chaos. When they are juxtaposed together, these concepts form a single entity. There is a marriage of purpose.

no where to go: Placed between each photo, Kedzierski’s caption would indicate being stuck. Our subway passenger in the second photo certainly looks aimless and, for the moment, perhaps dead. Yet slumped over, there is awareness in the positioning of the body. There is some degree of purpose to the way the body rests against the bag. That body, even at rest, is at attention, knowing that it will have to wake up soon. In life, we have to wait for our subway stop. We’re ticking away the minutes that pass as our cab lurches along. In stillness, we’re always moving. We’re not transients. The destination is the drifter.

By Joe Ramelo, Social Media Assistant.
Photo credit: Denver flag. Creative Commons licensed
redistribution ©en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Mysid

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Published Apr 01, 2010 - Comments Off