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Two essays about writing in the 21st century...


(The following essay appeared in the Mar. - April, 05 issue of the Lummox Journal.) 




The act of writing something, novel, short story, or poem is a physical act.  It may look

like all anyone has to do is sit there.  Easy job, sitting down.  But that's a misleading

perception.  Sitting down is one approach.  You can also write while standing up.

Hemingway preferred to stand while he was working on stories and novels.  I can write

standing up or sitting down.  It isn't so much the position of the body as it is the angle

of the mind.  I have gotten poems while driving, walking, working.  I have gotten poems

in bed or while eating or talking on the phone.  The words do not comfortably come to

you while you are ready but uncomfortably come to you at almost any hour of the day or

night.  They surprise your body with the urgency of their call.


My own personal example of how this works happened around five A. M. about ten

years ago when I got up to take a piss.   I already had some words going around in my

head the way I do when something is starting to shake itself loose inside me, I get all

quivery, hot and cold, with the words pushing at me, shaking me into a burning chill

and on returning to the bedroom in the dark I banged into a doorframe and opened

an inch long gash right smack in the middle of my right eyebrow.  By the time I

got back to the bathroom blood was pouring down my right cheek.  It took me a little while and several water soaked wash clothes to stop the bleeding and while I stood before

the mirror with blood on my face and hands I started to get the lines to a book length poem called WORKING ON MY DUENDE.   And, by the time I had squeezed the gash

shut, maybe about fifteen minutes, I had something like twenty or thirty lines floating

around in my head.  I went back to bed for awhile, figuring I'd just lie there and let the

lines come in and go out of me, but after an hour or so of that and the building excitement

of what this poem was suggesting, I found myself shaving as quickly as possible so I could get at the computer.


I figured this was going to be a twenty page poem but when I finally quit writing later in

the afternoon I had something like twenty five pages with no end in sight.  What I did

have was the skeleton form of a poem that within the next couple of years would swell

to sixty four pages typewritten.


I'm not exactly sure how I can explain writing at white heat.  The process is a mystery

even to me.  All I can say for sure is that the words just seem to tumble out of me and

across the page at a speed that I can only describe as velocity.  Sure, there are always

pauses here and there but I almost always receive the lines in a poem completely or

in a nearly completed form.  Sometimes I go back and add something or sometimes I'll

take things out.  But, the poem is almost always eighty or ninety percent finished as it

goes onto the page.  The twenty five page skeleton of WORKING ON MY DUENDE

was my road map for what had to get down, but I pretty much knew how this poem was

going to go by the end of the day.  The only reason that it grew to almost three times its

original length was that this poem was a true struggle with the spirit of where I lived,

New Mexico, the way that I was living, and with myself.


I've always written poetry at great velocity, high speed, a long blood rush down the page.

But, with DUENDE I had to get at the source of it all, the origin and the struggle of the

word.  I had to rediscover and reinvent Lorca.  I had to see New Mexico from every angle

possible and I had to dig back into whatever duende I believed that I had.  And, then

I had to try to see myself as part of a world of poets not only in New Mexico but all across the United States, down into Latin America, in Europe, and especially in Spain.

What I wanted to do was nothing less than try to reinvent myself.  This poem was my

struggle with the angel and also with all of my demons.


The one thing that New Mexico and the whole Spanish and Latin tradition in New Mexico have taught me is to see things through an entirely different set of images.  To

see life in tableaus.  To see history and mythology as a possible set of retablos.  Retablos

in the Spanish Catholic cultural tradition are crude religious paintings of saints on wooden boards.  The idea of religion doesn't interest me but the primitive paintings on

old boards does.   And, the Mexican and New Mexican murals are also fascinating.  The

the huge ambitious murals of the Mexican painter Diego Rivera are crammed full of

with all kinds of pulsing images and people.  Which, to me, suggests history in the blink

of an eye.


So, as I went back to WORKING ON MY DUENDE I began to see it as a mural of words.  One thing after another after another, all at the kind of velocity I have been used

to for years.  And, this process also made me look at THE WASTE LAND again.  Here

is a poem that could work as a movie or as a mural painted on the wall of a building some

where in London.  And, it also forced me to see how the surreal images were working in

Lorca's POET IN NEW YORK.  In both of these poems, it's the speed of the image coupled with the speed of the poem.  And, that's the way I wanted DUENDE to work.

In fact, that's the way it had to work, or it wasn't going to work at all.


The contemporary urban poem, whether it's written in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago,

London, Paris, Prague, Mexico City, Moscow, Beijing, Bogota, Pueblo, or Albuquerque,

needs to work with the kind of sudden ferocity of Picasso's Guernica, fractured images,

the trauma of our safety blown to smithereens, our lives torn into our lives, through

a series of unrelated images and events that rocket it toward a charged and unrepeatably

renegade moment.  This is the kind of poem that comes out of our deepest outlaw selves

and defines us as well as an entire age.


I started with a story.  I'll end this with a story.  When I was a kid, somewhere in my

early teens, a building in Freeport, Illinois, where I was born and raised, caught fire and

blew up.  It happened a couple of blocks from the skidrow hotel where I used to live.

Pretty soon a black cloud took out the sun and the sky was filled with hundreds of sheets

of burning paper from the businesses in that building.  And, while this paper rained down

on the surrounding streets, I would reach up and grab a piece and hold it while it was

still on fire.  That's why I believe the speed of the poem is equal to the fire of our burning.


Todd Moore is a regular contributor to the LJ.  He is also a widely published poet.  His latest book is THE DEAD ZONE TRILOGY.


(This article appeared in the Lummox Journal in 2003)


21st Century Phlox by Violet Jones     


I have long thought that the next true literary movement is the monster that toils under the ungainly moniker of “zinesters.” There are many independent, creative spirits in America who are completely fed up with the falseness and cronyism of today’s mainstream press, and have taken matters into their own hands to pro duce literature that is honest, clear of vision, and unbending to the wishes of corrupting influences. When I first went to college to study English and the art of writing I entertained many dreams of becoming the next John Cheever or Sandra Cisneros but I was quick to learn that the so-called “intelligentsia” of the academic world were only interested in artistic conformity to formulaic standards of what is good writing and what is not. I found that I had a very real talent for writing according to these standards, but I soon discovered that my writing was beginning to seem more and more like someone else’s, and not my own at all. I almost did not finish school, so great was my disenchantment with the way I was being taught. I got my degree and vowed to banish everything I had learned there from my mind, except for the knowledge of one thing: the underground press. Art for the sake of money is not art unless you call making money an art. Anyone who tries to bring up Pablo Picasso or Maya Angelou to refute this, neglects to note that spectacular art is worth money because people with money are mainly interested in the spectacular. To be a gifted artist or writer who creates spectacular stuff is a wonderful thing, and deserving of affection, praise and yes, money. Rare in number are the artists and writers, however, who receive such acclaim and do not alter (nor cast a mold of) their artistic vision in order to get more of it. I said rare, not nonexistent, mind you. But the bulk of Ph.D.-sporting writers of academically correct literature today are bland as toast, except in the eyes of those who would butter them up. What the writer’s workshops never fail to overlook is that there can be only one Raymond Carver—to emulate him as if his novels are textbooks is not honest writing. It is conformity that has no place in the realm of artistic expression. The underground press is the place where people who want to write in their own individual voices can find other independent minds to read and understand them, and perceptions of human nature that do not acknowledge the boundaries of status quo. Whether or not it is identified as such, the zine community is a literary movement, and a considerable one at that. With no concern for financial gain or mainstream notoriety of any kind, zinesters possess artistic integrity in abundance. It is our passion for what we believe in that drives us—the belief that we, like all thinking individuals, have something to say that is worthwhile. Zine publishers have the courage to print material that would instigate change (and drive away advertisers, government grants, big-time distributors, and the narrow-minded in general) and share a new way of looking at the world. The underground press movement has, over the past decade, been established as the last bastion of free speech for all who hold it dear. The task of defending a Bill of Rights slowly eroded by the caustic effects of censorship and corruption will undoubtedly fall to the independent publishers of this land in years to come. I agree that the zine community needs a sense of history, heroes, and a cause. Zine writers must come together and pool resources and talents to develop a real-life existence with a physical presence beyond a list of names and mailbox numbers. Zinesters must write about each other. We must publish all things fantastic and absurd n our travails that would relate to outsiders the essence of free will that is so intrinsic in our nature. Only then will a recognizable literary movement be born. Our voices will be heard more clearly as a chorus of individuals. We must remain completely aloof of the established literary community and their traditions: WE ARE NOT THE BEATS! I do not want to find the new Greenwich Village. That legendary place does not belong to us. If we strive to be like the countercultures of the past then we are merely conforming. If we attempt to create a trademark “style” by emulating each other then, too, will we lose the sense of individuality that is the foundation of free thought. Diversity and individuality must remain tantamount in importance no matter how organized the underground press movement becomes. We must refuse all efforts at infiltration through government funding and corporate sponsorship, or our freedom will be bought and thus lost. We must use the computer only as a tool for communication, not as a frontier for expansion, for our work must be made continuously available to all who want it. In other words, we must keep doing what we are doing, and keep doing it well. The rest will fall into place.


Violet Jones 1999


Drawing by Carl Alessi

Violet Jones edits a review zine called Death Ship.  She is also a contributing reviewer for ZineGuide.


Exploring the Creative Process since 1996