“Is there anybody…out there?”
A looooong interval between posts.
Well, what do you expect? I’m a working author, with a mind that doesn’t allow for much leisure or fun.
Mainly, I’ve been editing The Algebra of Inequality, my latest collection of poems. It has been an agonizing process, choosing the best poems from the past five years, winnowing out the rest. And sometimes a poem gets the chop not because it lacks tunefulness or thematic unity, but for other, more nebulous reasons. Somehow it just doesn’t quite fit with the rest. It’s a judgement call and often I had second, third and fourth thoughts, so the whole thing became ridiculously drawn out and fraught, dragging on for weeks.
But now it’s done. The interior layout is just about ready and my regular cover guy, Chris Kent, is hard at work on another doozie. I’ll be leaking a sneak peek of said cover in the coming days; it’s based on one of my paintings and, knowing Chris, it’s bound to be eye-grabbing.
Yes, what’s up with the painting, why has it become so important to me? Because when I haven’t been editing, I’ve been regularly making that trip down to my little basement dungeon and attacking canvases with acrylics, a screwdriver, awl, various other implements. Getting physical. The results are odd, distinctive, and the works tend to elicit interesting reactions from the people who see them. But it’s a thrill leaving text behind for awhile and working purely symbolically, utilizing a totally different area of my brain.
Recently, I’ve also completed a large, complex collage piece that may end up as the cover for my short story collection later this year.
One of the poems I lopped from The Algebra of Inequality was one I concocted a number of years ago, titled A Personal Cosmology. It has a strong, visual component. I used some square styrofoam and black paint to create a series of stark, geometric images. Then I employed “automatic writing” and started scribbling, one short prose bit for each of the six images. I think I posted one of these images and accompanying text a few years ago but, for the first time, this is the complete version of Cosmology.
I love this piece, it comes right from the soul, but it just wasn’t right for the collection.
It was one of the final cuts, a hard one to leave out.
Click on this link, scroll through it…enjoy:
Take heart. Hasn’t Harlan Ellison been editing ‘The Last Dangerous Visions’ for over forty years?
I think we’ll have to let that one go. Hey, the first volume was good enough and Harlan has works like I HAVE NO MOUTH (great collection) and “Repent, Harlequin” to preserve his reputation into posterity.
I don’t think he and I would get along—both Alpha wolves—but I’ve always respected Harlan’s stance that writers must aggressively protect their artistic visions, even if that means earning a reputation for being “difficult”. Any artist who doesn’t defend their integrity is an aesthetic coward, not worthy of our attention.
Cliff, I’ll leave you with this story concerning Harlan’s aggressive defensiveness. Since he has always been known as a writer who rails against the label “science fiction author”, what followed next should have come as no surprise to anyone, certainly not the radio host. Some years back, Harlan appeared as a guest on a prominent, Boston-based NPR program. When being announced, the host announced that Harland Ellison “despises the label science fiction” author (thus the earlier caveat) preferring instead the term “speculative”. So what does the host naturally do in his first question? (“Harlan, as a science fiction author…”) Well, with those words, the fiery stories of the legendary Ellison temper came to life before the (delighted) ears of this listener (this host had been asking for it for years) and a volcanic barrage ensued which resulted in Ellison walking off of the show within ninety seconds of the start of the interview, leaving a flabbergasted host to blubber his way through a few moments of shock (he must have been the only human within a thousand miles not to have seen that this challenge would be answered) before falling into a robotic defensiveness about decorum and professionalism. I can only surmise that the pause before these cowardly afterthoughts were well timed with Ellison’s complete exit from the building, otherwise (on the basis of stories heard) I have no doubt we would have experienced the sound a jaw makes when it breaks over a live mic. This may also explain why I’m not invited to tell bedtime stories to my friends’ kids.
Love that story.
The anecdotes (good and bad) regarding Mr. Ellison are nearly too many to count. Plus, the man has done a lot of self-mythologizing, just to muddy the waters. It’s too bad that sometimes his bombastic personality gets in the way of folks’ appreciation for his writing. At his best, he helped pull speculative fiction (especially in America) out of the moribund backwater it had become, where fanboys worshipped Golden Agers, hacks like Asimov and Heinlein, and never “grokked” to how awful and atavistic their writing actually was. If it wasn’t for the “New Wave” in the 1960s, SF would have lapsed into juvenilia and irrelevance. God bless J.G. Ballard…