I get banned a lot, my writing. I’ve noticed this. My novel U.P. got banned from libraries. Librarians out there reading this, you know who you are. My prose (“But Be Honest, the Qu’ran is a Piece of” in BluePrintReview comes to mind) has been banned in China, even banned in the U.S. by yahoo, the Republican search engine. (In fact, web searches in China are very similar to web searches on yahoo for the total amount of writing that’s banned, which should alarm any Libertarians who believe in free speech. The amount of “spin” on Chinese web sites and yahoo’s main web site are about equal as well. I think China and the Tea Party could get along really well if they sat down and had a tea ceremony together, drank some green tea and drank some Yoo-Hoo. By the way, the Yahoo-China connection doesn’t stop there; Yahoo worked with the Chinese government, giving details of his email account, in the sentencing of dissident Li Zhi who criticized Chinese corruption.)
But getting back to being banned--that doesn’t help you get a creative writing job.
But I’ve noticed that my favorite writers, the ones who have the most bite to their writing—Stewart Home, Antonin Artaud, J.D. Salinger, Hunter S. Thompson, Franz Kafka, Clarence Cooper Jr, John Fante, Ken Kesey, Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Sarah Kane, Tama Janowitz, Alfred Jarry, Iceberg Slim, Richard Allen—they weren’t teachers. Or maybe they were, maybe they did teach, but minimally. They definitely were not known for their teaching. It wasn’t central to them, what defined them. The writers in America who are really known more as “creative writing faculty”—their writing tends to suck.
(As you can see, if you write like this, you get banned.)
OK, maybe I’m just trying to get your attention.
Maybe I shouldn’t say suck. Maybe I should say tends towards being boringly safe. Tenure-track-seeking safe. Tenure-track-having safe. Nature poetry safe. Daffodil safe. Thesaurus convoluted safe. Upper class white safe. Middle class white safe. A story about a vacation to India safe. A story about your nanny safe. Safely kept in a safe safe. And that churns out MFAs writing safe poems for safe books and safe stories for safe collections because they’ve been taught safe skills. Safe safe safesafesafe safe.
You can only be so honest and then you just piss people off.
I’m not going to name names, but some of those poets and fiction writers out there at the top MFA programs, their poems and stories are like reading dictionaries, boring long incorrect flat-lining award-winning dictionaries. It’s like there’s no heart anymore. That the $50,000, $60,000, $70,000 a year has drained them of any sense of struggle, of reality, of connection with humanity. They write about teaching writing. They write about writing teaching. They teach about writing writing. They write about traveling to go somewhere to teach writing. They write about traveling to go somewhere to read something they wrote. Maybe a cemetery will creep into their work, luckily someone dies in the family, but for the most part they are citadeled into non-crime, the absence of the lumpenproletariat from their work. Everything so white and fenced off. They are safe in the hearts of heartlessness. I want every writer in America fired for one year. Make them starve for a bit. No sabbatical. Just fired. And hire us fucks who have been on our deathbeds trying to survive. Give us some money so we can afford SASEs, stamps, food. We’ve got shit to say. You don’t anymore. What happened to you? Wake up.
But the way it works is Visiting Writers Series are set up where hired tired writers hire hired tired writers to read hired tired safe writing to a sleeping student body forced to attend and pay the visiting sleep-inducer a shitload to do it. Every Visiting Writers Series should take on one—at least one—struggling, drowning, dying-to-make-rent honest-as-shit writer every year to headline their reading series. At least one unemployed writer every year. At least. Not academic nepotism and incest. But a visiting writers series that’s an actual visiting writers series with an actual series of writers visiting. That one gig will prevent a suicide, prevent a quitting, prevent an abortion, prevent an un-armed robbery, prevent a very-armed robbery, prevent a drug overdose, prevent a genocide, prevent a zombie apocalypse, and allow someone some breathing room to submit the next The Nigger Factory, the next If He Hollers Let Him Go, the next A Thief’s Journal, the next Hunger, the next A Confederacy of Dunces. And if you don’t know what those books are, if you haven’t read those books, then what the hell have you been reading? Safe tired New York Times “bestseller” crud? Zombie vanity press swill? How-to books on marketing? Twilight? Turn off the radio. Yo G stick a fucking tape in it. Pick up a pen. Fire the hired. Hire the fired. Hire the homeless. Let’s get back to the real writing. Imagine if you wrote the shit that was so honest that you made the university nervous, that made an editor say “fuck yeah,” and that got you banned?
Do you know the masterpieces that would emerge if the academics out there buckled down and started writing about what needed to be written about?
R.A. Riekki's books include U.P. and The Way North. Moonshot Magazine nominated his short story "Heroes" for the Pushcart. Verse Wisconsin nominated his poem "The Upper Peninsula Talks to Lower Michigan in a Bar in Wisconsin" for Best of the Net. WSU Press nominated his poem "After They Leave" for the Pushcart. You can read all three online. You can start here -- http://versewisconsin.org/Issue108/poems/riekki.html. (He also recommends people listen to CISM, Montréal radio, http://cism893.ca/.)