Creative Writing


Cover of the Spring 2012 Issue of The Literary Review

My translations of Russian/Ukrainian prose writer Andrei Krasnyashykh’s work appear in the latest issue of The Literary Review (an international journal of contemporary writing). I couldn’t be more thrilled to be published alongside Mary Jo Bang, a poet who is translating Dante’s Inferno, and others.

The pieces I’ve translated are from a series called “Machinations of the Genre.” Krasnyashykh invented a form he calls the intrigue, short little breaths all wrapped up in pun, wordplay, and confusion. They are something like a prose poem or flash fiction or just ruminations on a word that only lasts a sentence or two.

I am happy these translations have found a home in TLR, especially since the theme of this issue is “Encyclopedia Britannica.” These pieces are almost like short entries in a reference book, new definitions for words and thoughts.

Krasnyashykh lives and works in Ukraine but writes in Russian, a member of the Russian-speaking literary community in Kharkov. His book of short stories, The Park of Culture and Relaxation, was published in 2008 and short-listed for the prestigious Andrei Bely Prize. I am working on translating stories from that collection, after initially discovering him while studying under Idra Novey and Matvei Yankelevich at Columbia University’s literary translation program.

I will be doing a reading with TLR contributors Cindy Cruz, Martha Witt, and Geoffrey Nutter on August 2nd at Unnameable Books in Brooklyn. NY. More details forthcoming.

The full text of “Machinations of the Genre” is below the fold. His original Russian text can be read online here.

(more…)

“A stone thrown into a silent lake
is—the sound of your name.
The light click of hooves at night
—your name.
Your name at my temple
—shrill click of a cocked gun.”

— Marina Tsvetaeva, from “Poems for Blok, 1,” translated by Ilya Kaminsky and Jean Valentine (via Russian Literature via proustitute)
For translators out there, consider entering the 2012 Marina Tsvetaeva Compass Translation Competition (winner gets $300 and publication).

It is a rigidly controlled book. It came at a time in my life when I’d been in therapy and analysis for years and just beating at the whole thing. I wanted to know what my culpability was. I literally had this fantasy of a pie graph of all the players involved, and this much is your fault, this much is your fault. I wanted that. I wanted to know exactly how bad I should feel. At some point, God bless my analyst, I hit the wall. I realized that all of this cerebral going around and around and around was not only failing to produce the desired effect, but was preventing me from approaching my own history. There was one moment, where I thought, there’s only one thing I can do with this, and that’s to tell the story. I know how it happened.

From a Days of Yore interview with Kathryn Harrison, author of the New York Times bestselling memoir, The Kiss. In the quote above, she’s talking about the process of writing that book, which is about her incestuous relationship with her father. It’s a daring book to say the least. I guess at some point, she had to just tell her story in book form instead of talking around the issue in circles. There is no neat resolution to one’s own past, no solid answers that can wash away a trauma.

The interview was conducted by my friend and former classmate Kassi Underwood, herself a talented writer.

Screen capture of Nick Ripatrazone's essay at The Millions

Nick Ripatrazone writes “On Getting Paid: Literary Magazines and Remuneration” over at The Millions. He doesn’t say very many new things about making a living as a writer, or about the struggles of a literary magazines and a larger system that is not financially sustainable, but there were a few choice quotes, especially in the comments. Allow me to be your summarizer and highlight what was awesome, in case you didn’t get a chance to read:

  • David Lynn (of The Kenyon Review): “Many authors today hold academic positions… promotion in the academy often depends on generating vitae with lists of publications that otherwise have earned them little beyond the price of a meal or two…”
  • From “John” in the comments: “Only on rare occasions do my individual poems ‘make’ money, and when they do, it’s usually $30-$60 that I receive 3-6 months after publication. In other words, it has little impact on my lifestyle, but a huge one on my confidence…One payment of $30 could help offset costs of printing paper, envelopes, and stamps. An additional $30 would buy me a printer ink cartridge. It sounds frivolous but these expenses add up. If 2-5 poems published a year brought in on the average of $50 a piece, I would probably use that money to fund book contest fees (which are high), thus the money would be recirculated within the industry…”
  • Comment from Roxane Gay (awesome contributor to HTMLGIANT, among other things): “Part of the problem is saturation. There are 2,800 literary magazines because there are too many people who want to be an editor instead of a member of an editorial team. There are too many people who think, ‘I have a literary vision that must be shared with the world,’ and not enough people who find ways to get involved with existing magazines…Magazines, even small ones, receive 8,000-15,000 or more submissions a year because writers would rather be published than subscribe to those same magazines. We have somehow spawned an environment where we equate publication rather than subscription with participation in literary culture because there are so many magazines and it is so easy to get published.
  • Nick Mamatas: “The comments about editorial imagination are spot on. People can huff all they like that editors do try—but clearly the overwhelming majority of them don’t. That’s why there are endless identical-looking print journals out there, often named _____ Review. The few exceptions: McSweeney’s, Black Clock, etc. look different, feel different, and have a different quality of reading experience. And they likely are more financially stable.

I’m most interested in the book which is completely un-sellable on the basis of a proposal or contract. One of the reasons so many nonfiction books are so boring is because what they’ve done, very diligently, is fulfill the terms of their proposals—they’ve written up their proposal, long-form, and often what this does is then set up a sort of serial deal, where the whole book can essentially be reduced back to the size of the original proposal! What I really like about this book is that the proposal would be turned down instantly: there’s nothing to propose. Nicholson Baker talks about the way in which the most successful nonfiction books are those that can be boiled down into an argument so that everybody can wade in with an opinion without having to undergo the inconvenience of having to read the book itself. The more you can condense it, the better. Malcolm Gladwell is the supreme exponent of this: Blink—oh yeah, I get it! “Blink.” That’s all you need to know.

Quote from an interview at Guernica.

This sounds a lot like advice I got from my favorite former professor Paul Elie. Elie actually just quit his full-time job as an editor at Farrar Straus and Giroux to finish a book about J.S. Bach. He’d always tell us about authors who would just take their book proposal synopsis and turn that into the prologue or first chapter. Don’t give it all away!, he’d say.

I’ve been thinking a lot about experimental genres these days, and have stumbled upon flash nonfiction. Did I invent this? I guess it’s the same as flash fiction, but I’m self-consciously telling you about myself.

Below is one of my first attempts at flash nonfiction. It’s inspired by a translation of a Juan Villoro story published at Words Without Borders.

I hate flying because I can never be present, in the meditative sense. By the time I’ve taken stock of where we are, the plane has leapt forward another 65 mph mile.

I think that most first books or projects that are more ambitious than magazine articles tend to be about the writer himself. The writer is trying to discover what he sounds like after many years of apprenticeship, imitation, and so on. There are two things going on in my book. One is the ostensible subject, which is listening to a particular kind of feminine presence that doesn’t usually have a voice in the world, and the issue of me trying to let them speak without too much control. And then there’s also the simultaneous issue of my trying to learn how to speak, not just for other people, as in my reporting or memoir-type writing, but learning to speak for myself.

 From BOMB Magazine (via Philip Eil).

Here’s a snippet from a recent “Brevity” blog post by Anna Vodicka that really resonated with me:

The poetry class did not make me a poet. I wrote a lot of bad poems. But it did turn my attention to the short form—the art of economy and responsibility. With Kinnell’s poem and Wrigley’s words in mind, I thought, “Yes. Prose, it is.”

I plucked a few lines from their stanzas, let them settle responsibly into the new space of a paragraph, and cautiously let prose in. That’s when I heard the sound. It went, “click.”

I am currently working on an experimental essay all about how poetry and literary translation has affected my nonfiction prose writing and pushed me in a, well, experimental direction.

Can’t wait to finish it and (hopefully) find a published home for it. Then I’ll share it here!

“The essay is a meditative form in which the author’s personality is revealed not but what she has done but what what she has thought.”

— Patrick Madden, “In Praise of the Essay” symposium.

“The great thing about teaching writing is that you remind yourself of things you already knew.”

From Robert Root, nonfiction writer, editor, and teacher, co-author of The Fourth Genre. From talk given at the recent “In Praise of the Essay” symposium.

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