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Timber Journal Winter Issue 2015

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PROSE

“Alignment in a Ford F-150″ by Kristen N. Arnett

“Between Places” by Thaddeus Rutkowski

Three Pieces by Jennifer E. Brown

“Love Song for Joe Biden on the Eve of the 2012 Vice-Presidential Debate” by Bryant Davis

“This is Not That Kind of Hiking Story” by Michael B. Tager

 

POETRY

“Last Words” by Kat Finch

from Stop It Crown by Patrick Culliton

Four Poems by Eric Baus

Three Poems by Matthew Johnstone

Four Poems by Brian Foley

from Chlorosis by Michael Flatt & Derrick Mund

 

INTERVIEWS

Brotherhood, Constraint, Resolution: An Interview with Jericho Brown on  The New Testament

Hip Hop, the Divine, and Brutal Truths: Erin Armstrong interviews Victor LaValle

Experiment is the Mainstream and Everything Else is Perverse: Jeffrey DeShell on Experimental & Innovative Literature

You Don’t Know What You’re Doing: Stephen Graham Jones on Experimental & Innovative Literature

from Stop It Crown by Patrick Culliton

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It begins with a banana
hung from high
branches and relief

when the giant arrives in
time, gulps
it in stride and plays

air drums on the horizon.

Quiet, love.
If he hears us bumbling
to America, into the bindle we go.

What hungover god stuffed this ocean into us?
Let’s offer him our finest night terrors,
tithe against the tide that keeps rejecting our layup.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
What sunlight today.
Don’t say things like that.
Say what horses hear.
Talc in seawater.

Death rests in bears,
pawed in gray gauze.
They against kneeling
knee the hymn’s side.

Death lasts Tennessee minutes,
cicadas locked  in blue wax.

Death collects sticks and ties
them with twine, should you
find one spinning from the rafter.

Death rips us open
like a bag of chips
at a picnic one pavilion over.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Remember how we hated disco/
weren’t born yet? Best train the fright,
freeze it on speed dial.

Don’t think in a pictograph that pits
the heart beside a red rubber coin purse
unless you want permanent dyspepsia.

We can only sail to America via doubt
in any engine other than the tongue.
Just ask farms. They’ll be there,

manufacturing our shared nightmare
of being born anyone but water’s children.
When we have sex we’re a thresher

separating a kernel so small
even the sun can’t reach it with her swords.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I wish you happy hammers
now that you’re a comb
missing seven

teeth in the barbicide.
Earside, my barbress cuts
half a sea from my head.

Death is a vine behind the mirror.
I’m afraid six of you

will emerge and slap me
with a sack of cold powder
when I dream we take

a metalworking class and
keep making each other small

music stands.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In fall, the most sincere
form of money, we
tent out in fatass dark.
Our teeth flash
like America’s ghost
meat and we forgot
to pay the water
bill. You’re right.

We shouldn’t pony
up for anything
more than half our body
when in supervised woods
we can name the hurricanes
on our thumbs, issue
a Cadillac of a warning.

___

Patrick Culliton lives in Ohio.

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You Don’t Know What You’re Doing: Stephen Graham Jones on Experimental & Innovative Literature

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The following survey was distributed by Timber Journal to contemporary authors asking them to investigate the labels “experimental” and “innovative” when they are applied to literature. The questions were composed by Héctor Ramírez. 

1) What are your thoughts on the label “experimental” with respect to literature, in a general sense? What does the phrase “experimental literature” even mean to you? Can it be adequately defined?

​It’s a term that’s always bugged me. Never knew really why until I heard Brian Evenson say once somewhere that ‘experimental’ suggests that you don’t know what you’re doing. Some stuff that gets called ‘experimental,’ you can definitely feel that, too, that this writer really has no idea what she or he was doing. Not that they don’t stumble into good stuff every once and again. But it’s kind of just like you’re in the basement mixing random stuff together. ‘Innovation,’ though, that’s a term I can go for. Innovation has a purpose. You’re mixing chemicals to achieve X or Y effect. You can see where you want to go, you’re just having to make stuff up to get you there. Innovation is so economical, it can save so much time.​

2) Do you find “experimental” useful as a category? If useful, is it more useful for writers, publishers, teachers, or readers (or equally useful across the board)?

​In a lot of magazine and journal’s submission guidelines I still see ‘experimental,’ yes. And I think that tells a lot of writers that, hey, this crazy thing I wrote, they might actually look at it. So it’s useful that way. Not sure how it’s useful to publishers or teachers or readers, though. Well, except to those who use it as a Do Not Enter sign.​

3) Whatever “experimental” might mean, in the very least it’s probably safe to say that it attempts to describe a particular subset of writers who try to distinguish themselves from “popular” literature. But: is there also a mainstream sense of experimentalism with respect to literature, distinct from other forms of experimental literature? What does it mean to be a “trendy experimental” writer/artist?

​There’s Egan doing Powerpoint stuff, there’s MZD jacking with typography (as a way to jack with narrative), there’s Vonnegut drawing in his books, there’s Coupland playing in the margins . . . I don’t know. I can’t figure if there’s a difference in mainstream experimentalism and garage experimentalism or not, aside from level of success. I mean, didn’t people call Everything is Illuminated ‘experimental?’ ​Not necessarily because it was breaking new ground, but because it didn’t look like everything else on the shelf that season.

4) It seems to us that, when it is deployed, the term “experimental” changes depending on who is doing the experiment. Would you agree with that? If you disagree, is there a better way to understand the function of experimental literature? Or, if you do agree, in what ways does the “experiment” change based on the subject position of its author?

​Well, if you’ve got the seal of approval from a commercial press, and they’ve got serious marketing money behind you, then your ‘experiment’ kind of automatically gets considered amazing by most of the readers. Not because they’re into what you’re doing so much as if they say they’re not, then they’re no longer hip or smart. Whereas if you’re hotwiring words in your garage for you and thirty friends, truly and really inventing new ways to tell a story, you’re kind of automatically a crackpot, because you’re not reaching for that brass ring every time around. Neither’s better than the other, don’t get me wrong—well, the second, it has the chance to sneak new DNA into fiction, while the first, the commercial, it can get replicated in MFA programs across the country until it’s hollow of meaning. So, no real answer, I don’t think . . .​

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Stephen Graham Jones is the author of fifteen and a half novels and six collections.

Héctor Ramírez is a writer and teacher living in Boulder, CO. He received a B.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University and is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Colorado. He reads fiction submissions for Timber and is an editor and staff writer at Vannevar (www.vannevar.net). His work has been published in The Café Irreal, Buffalo Almanack, American Book Review and elsewhere.

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Experiment is the Mainstream and Everything Else is Perverse: Jeffrey DeShell on Experimental & Innovative Literature

timber-winter-banner

The following survey was distributed by Timber Journal to contemporary authors asking them to investigate the labels “experimental” and “innovative” when they are applied to literature. The questions were composed by Héctor Ramírez. 

1) What are your thoughts on the label “experimental” with respect to literature, in a general sense? What does the phrase “experimental literature” even mean to you? Can it be adequately defined?

I might be the only or the last to defend the word “experimental.”  I think it’s an important word and an important process.  I would distinguish the term from other terms like “innovative,” “conceptual,” “avant-garde,” and whatever recent iteration of “alt-lit” is or will be in currency.  I’m going to have to insert this long Adorno quote, partly as a way of beginning to articulate my defense for the term “experimental. And partly because it will make it seem like I know what I’m talking about:

It would be superficial to think that the experimental is the uncertain, is what is built on air and can be destroyed tomorrow; and to take the non-experimental for what is certain.  It is precisely that which does not experiment, which keeps right on going as if it were still possible to do so, which continues to compose as if the old preconditions were still secure, that is consigned, with apodictic certainty, to downfall and oblivion. . . The experimental is not automatically within truth, but can equally well end in failure; otherwise the concept of the experiment would have no sensible meaning at all.  It is undeniable that many so-called experiments already discount, in themselves, the possibility of their failure. . .     Adorno—“Difficulties”  Essays on Music

Although I don’t have as much optimism as he has for the oblivion on the non-experimental, I do think some of his other points are valid.  I’m especially interested in his first sentence and his thinking of risk, of the possibility of failure. The first sentence suggests that the experimental is that which is “built on air,” and the non-experimental as that which is certain.  He’s writing about music here, but the point is valid for the other arts: the tradition of Western Art is a tradition of experiment, of moving from what is certain to what is not.  Experiment is not antithetical to the mainstream: experiment is the mainstream.  In literature and music, in the 20th century this was tradition tuned on its head, and Realism made the dominant mode, and everything else the perverse outlier.

What’s perhaps more interesting in his thinking about risk, about the very real possibility of failure.  It’s not Beckett’s recuperable failure of failing better, which is simply (or not so simply) Hegel, but the very real possibility of having something blow up in your face, or of creating a true monster.  As an aside, this is where I would argue the experimental differs from the conceptual, in that the conceptual has no capability for failure.  It is the nature of experiments to get out of hand, become undomesticated, become monstrous, unmarketable.  The burden on the experimenter is not to repeat yourself: if you create identical monsters, you don’t have any monsters at all: you have a family or a concept.  Or a career.  It’s fortunate that language and literature are so vast that it’s possible to avoid recreating experiments.

This leads one to think about the ideas of failure, and its converse, success.  And I wonder how much these concepts are shared, and how much they differ, from writer to writer certainly, but even from project to project.  I was flipping through television channels about a year ago, and I heard the History Channel report that Hitler was “a failed artist.”  This got me to thinking what it meant to be a “failed artist” or “failed novelist.”  If one manages to write a novel, is that a “success”?   Two novels?  Does publishing a novel make one a successful novelist?  Getting paid?  Getting reviewed?  Having lots of readers?  Acquiring capital, either cultural or otherwise? For me publishing, when I finally have that artifact in my hand, is the antithesis of success: here I hold the book, the physical object, a thing in the world that makes all the other possible versions of the book impossible.  It’s an objective manifestation of failure, the failure to be something else, something better, something closer to what I imagined.  But there it is.  And if it’s truly a successful experiment, I’m not sure what it is.  Except this failure.

2) Do you find “experimental” useful as a category? If useful, is it more useful for writers, publishers, teachers, or readers (or equally useful across the board)?

“Categories” seem so intertwined with market forces that the question seems to demand a discussion based on these forces.  I’m not sure it’s that useful if it’s applied after the fact.   On one hand, everyone’s a realist, in that we all are trying to carve out/express a version of the world that is “true,” on some level.

3) Whatever “experimental” might mean, in the very least it’s probably safe to say that it attempts to describe a particular subset of writers who try to distinguish themselves from “popular” literature. But: is there also a mainstream sense of experimentalism with respect to literature, distinct from other forms of experimental literature? What does it mean to be a “trendy experimental” writer/artist?

I honestly can’t remember what it means to be trendy.  Alas.

4) It seems to us that, when it is deployed, the term “experimental” changes depending on who is doing the experiment. Would you agree with that? If you disagree, is there a better way to understand the function of experimental literature? Or, if you do agree, in what ways does the “experiment” change based on the subject position of its author?

I think the experiment would have to change with the person doing the experiment, yes.  I can’t imagine otherwise.  Moreover, I think the experiment would change, necessarily, from project to project.  The writer who has finished one book is fundamentally a different person than the writer who has not. Unlike scientific experiments, which purport to be objective and reproducible, artistic experiments can’t be objective—the subject is implicated in the act of writing—nor should they be reproducible, in that experimental writers aren’t trying to prove what they know, but what they don’t.  The conditions are too variable, the elements too volatile, and the experimenter too unstable.  Let’s see what will happen is hard to reproduce.  So I would say not only does the experiment change based on the subject position of the writer, but that the experiment changes the subject position of the writer. In many many ways.

5) Is there (or maybe, should there be) a significant difference between “innovative” and “experimental” with respect to labeling? If so, can you describe that difference?

I’m not sure what “innovative” means.  Of course I’ve heard the term before, and I just mentally substituted “experimental.”  Ray Federman and Carole Maso have at least this in common: they both resist(ed) the term experimental.   I assume “innovative” was just used because people wanted to stay away from either the lab coated mad scientist connotations, or the tentative, not sure what we’re doing connotation attached to the term. As I hoped I’ve explained, I like the word.

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Jeffrey DeShell has published six novels, the most recent Expectation (2013) and Arthouse (2011), both from FC2 , and a critical book of Poe’s fiction. He was a Fulbright Teaching Fellow in Budapest,and has taught in Northern Cyprus, the American Midwest and Bard College.  Currently he’s a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he lives with the novelist Elisabeth Sheffield and their two children.

Héctor Ramírez is a writer and teacher living in Boulder, CO. He received a B.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University and is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Colorado. He reads fiction submissions for Timber and is an editor and staff writer at Vannevar (www.vannevar.net). His work has been published in The Café Irreal, Buffalo Almanack, American Book Review and elsewhere.

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