THE POSITIVE MESSAGE OF NEW AMERICAN ART AND LITERATURE

Friday, September 14, 2012

Message to ULAers

To past/present members of the Underground Literary Alliance:

Don’t leave all the impetus to propel the organization to myself. To do this would affirm my own argument that I was the prime mover of the outfit. I had claimed that too much work was put onto one person. It’s up to you to show this wasn’t, or shouldn’t be, the case. You shouldn’t simply be riding along on my coattails, or otherwise not acting.

Remember that the organization was founded to be an advocacy group. A noisemaking outfit. When it’s failed to make noise it’s had no existence. It’s been well proven that moderation in relation to those who blackball us doesn’t work.

If the ULA is to reappear, it also shouldn’t be as merely a recycled version of what went before—an oldies act. Only opponents who sneer at us would want that. It’d need to look and be entirely new. Granted that getting the ball rolling on such a project takes enormous effort. As many people involved as possible, pushing alongside one another, would be best.

There are at least a few issues which need to be discussed first.

As for myself, I’ve been handed no choice by the literary blackballers, the Bissell/Eggers clique, other than to fight back against smears and slanders. This tar adheres to all of us associated with the ULA name. We all need to realize this. The position we had before in literary culture can be taken back. Those who control official literature are timid mice—not very bright mice at that. Timidity on our part doesn’t work—not for any of us. The past few years proves this, if it proves nothing else.

18 comments:

JeffOYB said...

I could produce eBooks of the line of ULA Press novels as well as the issues of Slush Pile. That could be something to build on, springboard off of.

Now that Pat has the ULA site back in action I wonder if a recommended Reading List might be a helpful addition -- showing where we're coming from -- which indicates where we might go. ...Although given our bold predecessors I'd hope that our inspiration would show we're willing to go to fresh new places, unfamiliar at this point.

Another notion is that the sign of a healthy revival, to me, would be attracting more than writers. Readers are key -- not just for their reading but for their own views, passion, involvement. A revived voice in reviewing and criticism in favor of populism and the street, in favor of exposing some non-System lit for a change, is needed -- if only in Amazon reviewing, but, really, some real media voices in print or online, are needed. (How long has it been since such was seen?) So we need to see if there are both writers and other folk willing to stand up for a literature rooted in the real world, in everyday life, apart from privilege, apart from wannabe's of whatever demographic. Lastly, we need partners in culture and business. We've had friends and connections in the indie/underground bookstore/infoshop/fairs world before. We'd need to reacquaint there, too. It's doable. There's still nothing like it out there. But I'm outta the loop, maybe there ARE voice reaching out, working beyond the System -- and beyond themselves. "Writer's Group" kinda makes me shiver. This isn't about inbreeding, it's outreach, revival...fun.

Patrick King said...

Is this still a members-only blog? Who's watching all this? Am I safe to say what I want to say? Or should I only say a portion of what I want to say? How many people are in the ULA? Where is the ULA? You have Pat and Jeff and you? And then what? A lot of questions. I asked Simonelli to put me on the list of "supporters" because I do support the idea. I'm writing humor and satire now. Good weapons to use in any culture war. But this whole leadership thing, Apollinaire not only coined the term "Surrealism" but brought the four original surrealists together. He was a leader that stepped aside. Well, okay, he stepped aside when he died of a gunshot wound, but, you get my point. Karl, you'd have to steer the ship until you got a group of younger cats and kittens together who could do a good job of running thing themselves. Right? At least that's the way I see it.

K.I.N.G. Wenclas said...

I've opened the blog up to everyone. Does it matter who reads this?
Re Jeff's suggestions. Some good ones. But-- producing books and zines means nothing in itself. The question is getting people to them. EVERYbody is producing books. Yeah, we all want readers-- but how??
It boils down to making noise. Branding and getting the brand out there. Every marketing book will tell you that means not just taking up space in the culture, but taking space in peoples HEADS. In that, within the literary world, the original ULA was amazingly successful.Make enough noise; hit a tipping point; and sales will take care of themselves. We never hit that point.
My problem with the ULA was that those who were ultimately directing hit didn't think out what we were about.
For instance: Who will have read that Times letter? What will be their attitude? HOW do we capture a portion of them to our cause?
I see at least three types.
1.) Literary opinion makers. This means, say, the editors of influential publications like The New Yorker and New York Observer. Or lit critics like James Wood. Who's read these people, and tried to understand their viewpoint?
2.) Hordes of hipsters in spots from Brooklyn to Seattle.
3.) Wannabe writers in places like Iowa.
What will get their attention and respect?
Not childishness. We have to present credible ideas, along with compelling images. Maybe an outlaw image. The only photo of Wild Bill I'd use, for instance, would be the long ago one on the ORIGINAL cover of Texas gang, with him bearded and bare-chested holding a shotgun. I've studied young hipsters assiduously. They want the authentic. Put that photo on the home page and it'll be attention-grabbing. Mild middle-of-the-road images that Jeff is prone to don't work.
Threat. Danger. Risk. Rebellion. That's what we started out selling. The web site, btw, never helped the ULA. Our burst of momentum came before it was up, and kept going by off-line stunts.

K.I.N.G. Wenclas said...

As to who's in the ULA. Who knows? I have a detached, sideways, partly interested/partly disinterested stance toward the ULA. Fact is, the last few years it hasn't existed, not in any real sense. My problem is that I'm stuck with it. I'm associated with it whether I want to be or not, so I'm forced to defend it against low blows.
***************
Re our promotional stance. Oh, I'd love to be cartoony too. It's the kind of writing I most enjoy doing. That's not the relevant question. When the odds are a million to one against, the only question is: what works?
The only chance we ever had was to go full bore. To challenge the lit world head on. Not easy, no. But EVERYTHING else we could possibly do is already being done by thousands of other writers and writers groups.
The realization hit me the last couple years: The lit world will never willingly accept us, our kind of writers. Writers without the proper connections or credentials. Never. They will never compromise. The only thing they respect is power. Leverage. To believe otherwise is to not understand how the world works in actuality.
They'll not give us a place at the table out of conscience. They'll not do it out of principle. They don't enact their own professed ideals, which are lip service. After all, wasn't the ULA the original 99% activist group? Weren't we ten years ahead of the Occupiers? You'd think then that the good liberals at the major print media outlets would embrace us. But that's not what they're about.
The only path is to FORCE them, through aggressive advocacy, through embarrassing them, to live up to their ideals.
From a promo standpoint, to use our status as outsiders, as Other, and be that. The unknown and unpredictable.
***************
Re the seven. When they bailed, the ULA was still vital, still to some extent a force. If Steve and I hadn't had a falling out later that year (2007), we could've shown that. I'd taken a few key steps, like that radio interview, but we didn't follow through.
Are any of the seven farther ahead in their writing careers than they could've been if we'd all seen the ULA project through? What about Finch, who's played footsie with the Eggers gang, and as far as I know may still be doing so? What has he gotten out of it? A pat on the head? What about the two guys who bailed in notorious fashion in '05? Or for that matter, the two founders who detached themselves in 2002? (I tried to bring one of them back. Ergo, the Chicago show.) Where are they now? Did their own ideas work?
The idea was to take the ULA vehicle to the destination, and THEN we could all jump out and do our own thing. But except for the ULA's first six months, we never had any discipline. We didn't have a credible, thought out plan. Get some new writers into the thing, and we might still do it-- but every aspect would need to be planned and coordinated, as things were at the very start. No doing things half-assed, but working like pros.
What next? I hope to have a private sit-down with Jeff at some point while I'm in Motown, but not yet.

Patrick King said...

I think you're definitely right about one thing -- not the retro oldies show. If for no other reason than to honor the memory of Steve K. Jarry And Apollinaire were the surrealists' immediate gateway drug, so to speak. Sure, there were other, older writers that influenced them, like Rimbaud, but he was quite dead by then. Well, so was Jarry, but they got to talk w/ Apollinaire and were welcomed into his circle before he went off to the war and got himself shot.

Anyway, I think I have a point here somewhere.....I'm always interested to see where this thing goes. It's a fourteen tentacled beast that refuses to die.

JeffOYB said...

For anyone new to the game here: I see Noisemaking as being compatible with a line of Books and Zines as well as with Outreach and Community. Sorry if I didn't mention that above -- it's my standard spiel.

So why not let's each of us describe what we plan to do and see if we can recruit helpers if we need any? Or try to see how we can tie our stuff in with other people's projects if we see any potential in them. If we don't then just let 'em be, but that needn't slow you down.

I said what I could do and also said my opinion as to what I thought we needed. In addition to Noisemaking.

You guys gave your opinions. Now let's see your Action Plans! (Or give a hint.)

We've done good Protests, we still have a Reputation, and we now have some interesting Lit. (Plus there's other Lit we could promote via Recommendo Reading suggestions.) What next?

Retro Oldies aren't the future, but until we find the New Kids or they find us we need to keep building on and promoting the best of What Is and What Was. (Yeah, we can give the Dead a nudge up to help folks see where we're coming from. If you haven't read Jarry yet he's new to you.)

JeffOYB said...

PS: I don't downplay activism. I made my first comment just to say that we need to reach WELL beyond writers to find our players. We need readers and reviewers to join in on the activism. That will be our best sign that we're winning hearts'n'minds.

So my post was about players not about the method. Of course the method includes Noise!

Actually, finding anyone to review us will be enough activism on their behalf, even if they trash us -- acknowledging our existence will nearly equal Game Over for the current lock-out.

And readers, well, ya gotta love em.

JeffOYB said...

PPS: "The web site, btw, never helped the ULA." ...Ha! Good one.

K.I.N.G. Wenclas said...

Well, it didn't, to the extent that it never held or built the readership that was on occasion sent to it. (The times we did get big publicity.) But then, every web site may have that problem. I have that problem with my blogs-- tho Demi-Puppets has a modest but steady readership, probably mainly my enemies keeping track of me.
Jeff, you're right. We need action plans. I'll see if I can come up with some ideas later this week.
(Keeping in mind that I stress the power of media-- that as I've said, more important than taking space on a shelf is taking space in people's heads. That comes first, anyway. Establishing the brand, and images to go with the brand. Strong or striking images only. Also, in promotion, sometimes less is more, and more is less. When the ULA first appeared we carried a sense of mystery, because people DIDN'T know too much about us. Only that we crashed readings and protested corrupt writers. The question asked: "Who ARE these guys?" We have to put ourselves inside the viewpoint of those we wish to attract, or those we wish to provoke. What would get our attention, were we them? That's what I think about.)
Stay tuned.
p.s. The two photos I'd want for the new ULA: the Wild Bill one, as mentioned, and the one of four ULAers standing outside Union Street in Detroit. Jeff, me, Jackman, and Yul. Maybe a photo of the group outside the bar after the '04 Philly Conclave. Maybe the "finger" photo.
Others?
We need to look cool or dangerous.
p.p.s. Let's consider a spring Conclave someplace.

Martha Bishop said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JeffOYB said...

Well, we're not about the Web. We use the Web as a touchstone, beacon, for people to find our art because it's shut out from so many other places (except from the ring of allie shops we'll build). It's also a ground we can defend from or reach out from. The world media used it. Now that it's live again, the world can also see that there were once questioners in the Lit world.

I agree that mystery is good. So we play it up. Also, until people read folk writing it's a mystery to them. Not sure it's best to remove all our imagery, sound files, event photos, etc., and leave just a few items to create this mystery. Not sure we have the time to totally revamp the website to 'darken' it and de-fun it and make it more intense and serious but maybe it's a matter of simple graphics.

My goal will be to finally call the couple dozen main indie/underground bookstores of the land. That was a big missing step. It seems like our reputation, our message, could still be revived. "The gang that busted out folk writing then got stomped -- we're back. The cause is stronger than ever."

Whoever wants back in, wants to do some fresh action, should just say what they plan on doing.

JeffOYB said...

ps: Whups, what am I saying -- I think that my goal before phoning might be to relaunch the line and zines as eBooks. But we'll see. If I could call around and get the mood of shops that could be allies they might prove to be great on-the-street contacts to have.

Erica Fox said...

It pleases me to see discourse take place just days ago.

What you need are ULA chapters & affiliates more actively dispersed throughout the country, working in places (like Iowa) where a clear divide exists between the System and the Rest of the Town.

The sooner you do this, the more likely it will be that populist writers will come out of the woodwork, more equipped to address the issue of elitism in their communities.

K.I.N.G. Wenclas said...

I agree. We used to do something like this. What we'd need are ULA promo and information materials to send to the chapters, along with some minimal guidelines.
I once had such materials, along with membership materials, and a semi-regular newsletter, that I'd mail out to new members. Activism is what we wanted then, and activism is what's needed now.
I'm no longer set up for this. Whatever such materials I still have are back in Philly.
The ULA is currently run, has been, by two people. Jeff Potter, who does ULA Press, and Patrick Simonelli, who's restarted the website. All such impetus will have to come from them. At the moment I'm just trying to survive!
Before we do anything we'll need at least some semblance of a real organization.

JeffOYB said...

Karl, you're great on the PR. Pat does the site. And I've been mailing out the orders for books'n'zines. (I can do my best to pick up the mission of contacting our natural allies in the couple dozen indie/underground shops. Seems like the missing link for my role.)

These are roles that seem clear and needed and that nobody else wants or seems able to do. They're likely all that's needed for the basic structure.

Offhand, I'd think that the affiliates idea could be handled via an online Forum with different sections for the different chapters. Why go broke mailing paper stuff around? Why take all the time/$ duplicating it, etc. Don't totally neglect that, sure -- Karl's screeds are catchy -- but it seems like the free Web is on our side, working in our favor. We DID have a lively Forum (or two). It was crazy but we got some spirit revved up.

It sounds like Erica wants to help and also has web savvy -- maybe she could oversee a Forum. She has a hunch that Town'n'Gown could be explored to synergize populist spirit -- hopefully in terms of readers as well as writers. We gotta find tinder suitable for the suppressed spark out there.

I don't really see that we went wrong by having the ULA be a League of Extraordinary Indie Artists each pitching in where they could.

In terms of mystery, seriousness, and 'less is more' I guess you'd have to talk to Pat and Yul about our web image and graphics. See if they think that sounds like fun.

Sure, it's good to develop an ideal plan then see how close we can get to it. But we have to dance with who we got! And see what they're game for then move forward from there.

I never did see anyone holding anyone else back or trying to ride coat-tails. Everyone's efforts helped everyone else out. Nobody ever did do anything (much) publicly that hurt the cause. I think we were quite pro in that regard.

I still think a good approach is to work with those who are proven indie pros. They know about getting things done in the real world.

We started out with that premise but actually had few members who fit that bill, even in terms of the founders.

Wannabe writers who work in cubicles might be less helpful.

It's worth noting that we're not against academia. Just don't let it twist ya. Our main players have long included academics -- namely, two -- Wred, who has been in many punk bands and is one of the only/first Doctors of Zines; and CC, who has acted in horror movies and can do amazing improv with more WWF savvy than a normal mortal can imagine. See, they respect their roots. It's not an inside job with them. That's all we ask.

Erica Fox said...

Wannabe writers who work in cubicles aren't very helpful--I should know because I spend 40-50 hours weekly doing tech support--but there is a high population of us. We aren't exactly the tinder for the spark, as you say, but there are quite a few of us who could stand to benefit from some networking.

None of this is to say that I'm against academia beyond my own personal problems with it; I'm merely against it as the only viable networking option a lot of people in the Midwest have for this sort of thing. I'm seeing a lot of people just sort of slip away after they get their degrees and turn into Cubicle Writers. That being said, working against academia shuts off support.

I would be more than happy to oversee a forum. It would definitely be the most practical way to see that everyone gets the info they need.

K.I.N.G. Wenclas said...

Remember, Jeff, that for most of the history I was the membership guy, which took a great deal of work. This includes orienting new or wannabe members into the goals and philosophy of the organization.
I suggest we choose only committed people.
The history of Outsider Writers shows what happens when you do the opposite. Their support was a mile wide and an inch deep. My experience tells me that it's better to have a small, chesive, committed team than a loose one full of people who are just along for the ride.
********************
Back to the original design: The ULA was created to be a p.r. campaign, with everything else secondary. Books and a web site are great-- but only if you have a way to get people TO them. The last few years are telling in this regard.
We weren't supposed to have one guy doing p.r. We were supposed to have a mass assault of letters and noisemaking. That's what advocacy is about, in any field. Big-time editors, press, etc., won't listen to one guy-- unless he's unusually creative. A mass of lobbying is a different story.
Underground writers are so dissed in this society that it's only by banding together that we have any chance at all to obtain respect as writers.

JeffOYB said...

I think we ran quite a few good campaigns with good focus. You mostly got the ball rolling but members did back you up and followed up with letters, etc. I think the PR campaigns worked quite well and built, as you say, up to 2004. We surprised them and hit them pretty hard with our narrative. Too bad we couldn't've struck with our book campaigns right then but poverty and shorthandedness has its ways of delaying.