memory & dream | duane poncy at elohi gadugi

Portland, I’m bored…

Portland, I’m bored with your terminal hipsterism, with your ageist youth culture striving for mediocrity, with your middle class intellectualism, which is about as deep as the rain puddle outside my door, with your racist cops and your timid activists who think carrying signs along the sidewalk while politely stopping for traffic is going to save us from catastrophe.

(Rude Rant #1)

Changes at Elohi Gadugi

rebecca2After a year of teeth gnashing and hand wringing, I have come to the conclusion that we need to make some major changes at Elohi Gadugi. As some of you may know, last fall I took on the role of Arts Director at Milepost 5, the Portland arts community where Patty and I live. This has taken up a very large chunk of my time. It is a volunteer position, but it provides me with an office and a large classroom space for various projects, including space to continue our Readings @ Milepost 5 series.

The new office space has allowed me to concentrate on the other work which now takes up much of my time: writing. I am over half way through a draft of what now looks like a four novel series. Patty and I have other novel projects on the back burner (we work together as writing partners) and I want to finish some of these before I am too old to remember how to log on to my laptop.

In consequence, we are forced to bring some of our ongoing projects to an end:

  1. We will not be publishing a book version of Elohi Gadugi Journal this year. It is very time consuming and it makes no financial sense at all. Other than the free author copies we gave away last fall, we have distributed only about a dozen additional copies online and a few at our readings. While it serves as an ego boost for some of our poets, writers, and artists, it costs us a lot of money and time generously donated by our editors. Our online Journal has been very successful, attracting about 8,000 readers last year. As those of you who are familiar with the circulation numbers for print journals, this is huge. So we are going to focus for the next year on making our online journal as good as it can be.
  2. We are retiring The Habit of Rainy Nights Press. This may be old news to some, but we have not looked at any new titles for nearly two years now. While we have published some fine books, we have had little traction in selling them. Patty and I can no longer afford to continue this. Besides several thousand dollars we have invested over the years, with little-to-no monetary payback, I have put in countless hours editing, designing, and producing books I believe in. It has been a wonderful 10 year experiment, and we don’t regret it for a minute. We have met dozens of fine authors and poets, and have made some long lasting friendships. We have also learned about the publishing industry, and one of the things we have learned is that it is a tough business, especially if you are on a shoestring. We just can’t afford it anymore.

So, here is where we are: We are keeping future print publishing options open, but for now we will be exclusively online. We will continue our reading series. We may, or may not, be producing recorded poetry for radio (our response to this announcement has not been overwhelming). With freely available classroom space at MP5, we hope to possibly offer some workshops from name writers in the future, and we have space for ongoing critique groups. We are not going away, but we will be changing our focus.

The Sky Path

They say that life may have come to the Earth
on a meteor kicked up from the Martian plains
by some asteroid gone astray,

or it might be the byproduct of star factories,
churning out chiral molecules in interstellar space,
to seed far flung worlds.

If so, then where is my home?
And who among us lay rightful claim here,
if only the rocks are indigenous?

And is this why my ancestors believed
that we all return to the stars
to dance in the sky at the end of life?

 

© 2012, Duane Poncy

Indigenousness

Writing Native America

As preparation for a presentation at the Eastern Oregon Word Roundup at Pendleton in late October, I am writing a series of essays about “Writing Native America” dealing with indigenousness, identity, and literary authenticity, the latter from the perspective of a publisher.

As those who have followed my earlier essays may know, my personal approach is strongly informed my the idea of “Creolism” as put forward by the Martinique philosopher, Edouard Glissant, as well as my own metis identity. I am hoping these articles will become a source of information for authors, especially those who might consider submitting works to our press. This first article consists of a slightly revised version on an essay I wrote several years ago, entitled “On Becoming Indigenous.”

The essay follows:

On Becoming Indigenous

Indigenous — autochthonal: originating where it is found; Living or occurring naturally in a specific area or environment; native; the native people of a place

Indigenousness is a relative concept. Among mobile humans, it is especially so. Cultures, from the beginning of human history have replaced other cultures, often violently, but more often through a slow process of assimilation or displacement.

One group of my ancestors, the Cherokees, are often said to be the indigenous people of the Smokey Mountains. The Mississippian culture that existed there before them might dispute that claim, if it still existed. But even the Mississippian culture did not “originate where it is (was) found.” Only Africans can claim that.

Still, in the broader sense of native, it is fair to say that the Native Americans in general are the indigenous people of the Americas, just as we are all an indigenous species of Planet Earth.

This is not to denigrate the idea of the indigenous. European, African, and Asian peoples are newcomers to this hemisphere, and it is essential that we recognize the importance of the displaced natives, because they are the ones whose roots go deepest in the soil.

My point is that in ten thousand years, if our species survives that long, our current mixture of native and invasive cultures will all be blurred together in history, and our commonalities will be considered the indigenous culture of the ancient past.

We are all becoming indigenous in that historical sense. We are becoming of this place and this history and this road forward together.

With the arrival of the first European invaders, Native Americans were violently uprooted from their past, cut off from their traditions, and their language, and their sacred places. African slaves, also, were pulled up like a crop from its soil, and replanted in a strange land. Others have fled imperialism, war, persecution, and impoverishment to arrive here. In the wake of this disruption, all of us, Native, African, Asian, and European, have constructed a new identity for ourselves. An American identity. Here I am talking about all of the Americas, not just this nation we call “America”.

As individuals, we have the capacity of making choices. We can take the best our ancestors have to offer us, combine that wisdom with our own knowledge and experience, and take that path forward. Or not. But our combined wisdom is what we have to offer the future. So, take it or leave it to die in the dustbin of history. Our choice.

Among the many Native American stereotypes is the wise elder who respects the earth and honors the ancestors. Like the noble savage, this stereotype is a romanticization, displacing the reality of a people in cultural decay, faced with poverty, alcoholism, unemployment, and lost heritage. Somewhere in there is a truth, but we must take the whole package. Wisdom requires knowing what we want and what we don’t want. We must understand what we have lost, in order to avoid losing it again.

The history and culture of all of our ancestors, red, black, white, or brown, contains wisdom and truth. It also contains folly. In this ever-changing sea of cultural fluidity and displacement, we have a choice. We each, individually and collectively, create together the culture and ethos of our time.

 

 

Critical Look: the Reaction to the DOJ Antitrust Suit

Just a few months ago, it seems, progressive small publishers were gnashing their teeth at the Big Six monopoly and the near-impossibility of lesser-known authors getting space on shelves increasingly taken over by big blockbusters. Does anyone else remember those days?

It seems not.

Today the grousing is about something entirely different–there is nearly unanimous agreement among the publishing industry (big and small) and professional authors’ organizations that the DOJ antitrust action is being unfair and that Big Government’s misguided suit against the industry giants will mean doom for the book.

This armegeddon of the literary world is supposedly going to come about because Amazon can now sell best seller ebooks for 9.99, instead of the 14.99 or so that the big publishers want to charge. The book industry, of course, will still receive their wholesale price for their books — Amazon will take the loss on their margins. So what’s the issue here, you ask?

The issue, which isn’t always clear amidst all the noise, is that publishers fear that selling ebooks for substantially less money than dead tree books will destroy their profits by nudging readers to purchase ebooks, instead. The profit margins of the Big Six are generated by the dead tree versions.

Now, there are a few problems with this argument. The first is the assumption that switching to an ereader is primarily an economic decision. This is not necessarily so.

I will disclose at this point that I am a Kindle owner, and almost all of my book purchases over the past year have been electronic books. On the other hand, most of my friends–including my wife, who also owns a Kindle–prefer books made of paper which they can hold and smell and stuff into overcrowded bookshelves. Not so, me.

In the first place, my shelves are full, and I have books sitting around in boxes, which may or may not ever find a vacancy on a shelf. I don’t want to carry all of these books around next time I move. I have vowed to lighten my load as I grow older.

Then, all of those books are made from dead trees, as I’ve mentioned a couple of times already, and they are processed in environmentally dirty pulp and paper mills. Most use toxic processes. They are then printed with toxic inks, because, of course, everything has to be “archive” quality. Yeah, I know your objection: Kindles or Nooks or whatever are also created with less-than-pristine processes. But one little Kindle vs. a library of hundreds of books? I think the Kindle wins out.

Of course, I would be remiss in ignoring the issue of Amazon, itself, consolidating near monopoly power over ebooks.

So, what are small publishers to do? I can think of a few things.

  • Start producing more ebooks, if that’s what the readers want. Learn how to market them.
  • Find a way around Amazon and other big internet retailers by developing book selling cooperatives for both our ebooks and our print books.
  • Start experimenting with other new models of business.

I hope that dead tree books will be around for some time yet, and I occasionally still purchase one, but they are the past. You see, the world is changing. Technology is changing. And I know it’s hard to make our lives and our business models change along with it, but change we must.

I believe that we can have a more democratic economy, one where the little press and independent author can win out over both the Big Six and the Apples, Amazons, and Googles. And pardon me if I have no sympathy for any of these monsters battling it out in courts.

The Whites of the Eyes: why webfiction and live events are flourishing together by doing precisely the same thing | 1889 Labs

The Whites of the Eyes: why webfiction and live events are flourishing together by doing precisely the same thing | 1889 Labs.

This is an interesting article about a group of writers/publishers who are engaging with communities.

My 2012 Goals

It’s been over a year now since I’ve last blogged here. Since then I’ve spent six weeks in Europe and Great Britain; Patricia and I have moved into a new home in Portland’s Milepost 5 arts community; we’ve done some vital work in getting Elohi Gadugi and The Habit of Rainy Nights Press on a more solid footing; we’re on the verge of releasing Navigation, a new book of poetry by Brittney Corrigan; and I’ve nearly finished Entanglement, the second novel in the Sweetland Trilogy. All of that is not meant as an excuse for neglecting my blog, however.

I thought, getting back into the blogging game, I would talk a bit about our goals for the coming year.

At the top of the list for The Habit of Rainy Nights Press is launching Brittney Corrigan’s Navigation, which has a street date of April 1st, and an official launch party here at Milepost 5, on Sunday, April 15th. We’ve learned a lot about internet promotion and marketing since our last book in 2010, and we have a new poetry editor, Ger Killeen, on board, to help us give it the push we need. We also have plans to publish a new book of poetry in the fall by Ralph Salisbury, and we are searching for a work of fiction that fits within our criteria.

After a few years of false starts, we want to finally launch Elohi Gadugi Journal this year. We are still in the design phase. Elohi Gadugi Journal, an online literary magazine, tag-lined “Narratives for a New World”, will feature poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, essays, artwork, and editorials. We will have semi-themed quarterly “issues” which will continue to be updated through the duration of the issue. There will be an annual print edition of the best of Elohi Gadugi Journal.

We currently sponsor a monthly reading and open-mic event called Readings@Milepost 5, which occurs every second Tuesday. We hope to take advantage of the theater at Milepost 5 to sponsor author events for poets and writers whose works or presentations fall under our mission.

On the personal front, this is the year I finish Entanglement, and move on the The Uncertainty Principle, the third novel in the Sweetland Trilogy. It’s undoubtedly going to be a full year. Oh, and did I say I plan to blog regularly, again.

Book Review: 2666 by Roberto Bolaño

Title: 2666
Author: Roberto Bolaño,
Translator: Natasha Wimmer
ISBN:978-0374100148
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

A book review of 2666

2666 by Roberto Bolaño centers around the fictional Santa Theresa, Mexico. On the U.S border, Santa Theresa is a city of maquiladoras and poverty where hundreds of women have been murdered. If this sounds like Ciudad Juarez, it is meant to, although it’s location corresponds more closely to Nogales, on the Arizona border.

The novel is divided into five parts, each with its own cast of characters, some interconnected. In the first part, entitled “The Part about the Critics,” three European academics travel to Mexico in search of mysterious and elusive Benno von Archimbaldi, a German novelist around which they all have built their careers. But Archimbaldi is never found and the critics leave, not sure if he was ever there at all. Ever in the background are the murders, like a news item in the morning paper.

The murders remain in the background until the third part, in which an African-American reporter from New York, in Santa Theresa to cover a boxing match, learns of the crimes and unsuccessfully tries to get permission from his editor to stay and investigate. In part four, we finally come to “The Part about the Crimes.” Interspersed with stories of the policemen who are assigned to the cases, Bolaño details one murder after another, as though they were being read from the police blotters, until the true horror of the crimes begin to sink into your subconscious. Finally, in the last part, “The Part about Archimbaldi,” we are given the story of the German novelist, who was a soldier on the Eastern Front in World War II, and witnessed the horrors of the Nazi regime. This section is almost fairy-tale like, but it is a dark, terrible fairy-tale about genocide and the atrocities of war.

2666 is hypnotic and dreamlike as the author segues through the lives of dozens of characters, sometimes hilariously, and sometimes in a dark, twisted journey of horror. The novel ends as Archimbaldi is leaving for Mexico to help his nephew, imprisoned and charged with killing four women. But there is no ending here, just a story which appears to stop in the middle, unfinished. This passage, describing the fictional writing of the fictional Benno von Archimbaldi, found near the end of the book, is a fair description of 2666, itself:

“The style was strange. The writing clear and sometimes even transparent, but the way the stories followed one after another didn’t lead anywhere: all that was left were the children, their parents, the animals, some neighbors, and in the end, all that was really left was nature, a nature that dissolved little by little in a boiling cauldron until it vanished completely.”

This is not a traditional novel with a beginning and neatly tied-up ending. It is more like a meditation on human nature, and how we humans rationalize and cope with the most horrible of crimes, and how our rationalizations (and complicity) end up biting us in the ass .

Near the end of the book, an old writer says to Archimboldi:

“I too believe in the intrinsic goodness of human beings, but it means nothing. In their hearts, killers are good, as we Germans have reason to know. So what? I might spend a night drinking with a killer, and as the two of us watch the sun come up, perhaps we’ll burst into song or hum some Beethoven. So what? The killer might weep on my shoulder. Naturally. Being a killer isn’t easy, as you and I well know. It isn’t easy at all. It requires purity and will, will and purity. Crystalline purity and steel-hard will. And I myself might even weep on the killer’s shoulder, and whisper sweet words to him, words like ‘brother,’ ‘friend,’ or ‘comrade in misfortune.’ At this moment the killer is good, because he’s intrinsically good, and I’m an idiot, because I’m intrinsically an idiot, and we’re both sentimental, because our culture tends inexorably toward sentimentality. But when the performance is over and I’m alone, the killer will open the window of my room and come tiptoeing in like a nurse and slit my throat, bleed me dry.”

For me, this passage most clearly sums up my understanding of what this novel is trying to say. Maybe you will read something different into it.

This is a difficult and complex novel in a number of ways, and may be of interest only to academics and other writers. At about 900 pages of dense prose, it took me about three weeks to read, but the subject matter, too, made this book a hard slog. Don’t get me wrong, it was worth every minute I spent with it.

Roberto Bolaño is a Chilean, who has lived much of his life in Mexico. The author died in 2004, and this book was published posthumously.

My rating: 5.0 stars

[rating=5]

Screen page formats needed

Every time I receive a manuscript by email –the only way we take them– I struggle with reading it on my laptop. It’s not so bad if it’s in a MS Word format, but an 8.5 x 11 pdf just does not fit well on my screen.

All of the word-processors and pdf-making software programs out there are set up with standard page formats: Letter, Legal, #10 Envelope, various European sizes. And that makes sense if the output destination is a printer.

But what if your destination is a monitor screen, as are more and more of the things we write? Letter-sized PDFs are awkward to read on a monitor and require excessive scrolling. A “half-letter” or “half-legal” size is perfect for reading on a screen, but most of our submitters would never think of it, or be afraid to submit a piece that way, because it is not an acceptable industry “standard”.

And the reflection on us if we buck the “standard” might not be acceptable, either.

Here’s the thing. As a publisher, all of our submissions are electronic. For final output to a book layout, the dimensions of a digital file do not matter. But for reading on a screen, they most certainly do.

We do not, as a rule, print manuscripts on a printer. And there is a lot more digital content out there on the web which is not meant to be printed out in a letter format. Why do we insist on this being our standard in the digital age?

So why don’t we have standard “Screen” layouts for our software programs. It really doesn’t make sense not too.

One more word on POD

POD, print-on-demand. That’s vanity publishing, right?

Wrong.

Print-on-demand is a book printing technology, and vanity publishing is a business model. It’s pineapples and ugly-fruit. So why is it that tradition publishers, book review organizations, and others in the trade insist on conflating the two?

“We don’t accept POD books for review,” says one book review site I visited recently. Of course, I know they surely meant “vanity press books.” Right?

The Habit of Rainy Nights Press, like a growing number of tiny presses out there, is taking advantage of the low overhead cost of publishing our books through Lightning Source. Besides low up-front costs, there are sound environmental reasons for not printing and warehousing thousands of books which may or may not sell. Our books are available nationwide (and some internationally). We take advantage of the same distribution system as traditionally-printed books, and our books are a superior quality product. In addition, we print the works of highly-respected authors.

Why then should we be tarred with the same brush as the pay-to-be-published crowd, simply because of the technology we use? Please wake up out there in publishing land. Don’t conflate POD with vanity publishing or self-publishing.

And when it comes to self-publishing…well, that’s a different article for another day. But my point is: traditional attitudes need to be drastically revised.

 

Essentials