Not All Idiot

How many times has Heidi Kohlenberg stabbed me in the back? How many atoms can you fit inside a jar? Few friends of mine have quite such a propensity for criticising me and my work. This is not to say that I am regretful: one needs to be reminded of one’s weaknesses, after all. But I wonder nevertheless why it is that Kohlenberg has taken it upon herself to lead the charge. Is it professional jealousy? Is it repressed sexual desire? It is mere fun?

Whichever it is, the evidence is not hard to find. Consider the following, from her review of Koira Jupczek’s Death Charts:

The real truth here is that Riecke, like so many male critics, compensates for the lack of drama in his life by supporting writers compensating for the lack of their drama in their lives by inventing it, in fantastical form, there upon the page…

And again, from the same review:

Which brings me to the question – is Georgy Riecke aware that Koira Jupczek is having a giggle or two at his expense? Is he brave enough to realise that his voracious appetite for death-inspired fiction is ultimately an act of cowardice; a hop, skip and a jump away from the harsh realities of, well, reality? Much as I would like to pull even more straw from the stomach of this rag-doll editor of mine, I must admit that he probably is well aware of Jupczek’s otherwise hidden intentions. He isn’t all idiot…

Aha! So a bead of affectionate sap seeps at last from the great oak of malice. I’m not ‘all idiot’, it transpires – which probably explains why Kohlenberg has been happy to work under my editorship for several years (what this suggests regarding the mental capacities of other editors is more than I dare to ask…)

Crime and Punctuation

I have returned, not without a little reluctance, to the ongoing process of re-editing the articles in my temporarily static journal Underneath the Bunker. Why such reluctance? It is, alas, as I have mentioned on previous occasions, on account of the seemingly endless parade of errors I encounter every time I set foot on the old website. One edits once, one edits twice, one edits thrice: still the mistakes get through. Grammar, spelling, sense – there is no end, it seems, to the soul-crushing chaos. I could claim that it isn’t all my fault: I could blame my cack-handed contributors, for instance, or my imperfect proof-readers. Ultimately, however, an editor needs to stand up for his or herself: to confess their countless sins and make clear their intentions to right all careless wrongs.

It’s funny how sensitive one can become to these small errors; these piddling crimes of punctuation. I recall the late great Johannes Speyer writing a romantic letter to one of his many female followers. Two hours after passing the note over to the lady in question he burst into her house and demanded she return it. ‘Why so?’ she squealed (or so he claimed). ‘I have just remembered a small error I made,’ he replied, seizing the letter from her dainty little hands and rushing out of the room. Minutes later he reappeared, replacing the once-offending missive into her quivering palms. She looked down to see that he had crossed out a semi-colon and inserted in its place a comma. ‘I couldn’t bear for you to think of me as the kind of man who would misuse a semi-colon’ he said, before leaping through the open window and trampling on her flower beds.

Like the majority of Speyer’s love affairs, this one was not meant to be. Granted, the girl was never to think of him as the kind of man who would misuse a semi-colon, but she was to think of him as a selfish, four-timing, flower-bed trampler. Still: this was fine by him. So long as the love letters were appropriately punctuated, it didn’t much matter what came of them.

No Originality Required

 The idea was simple: to slowly squeeze all that may be deemed useful across a great range of books into an exceptionally valuable, but much smaller, stock. To break literature down into a friendlier size. To separate the wheat from the chaff: once and for all. It must be done. Everything must be Breadyised!

I expected to receive and publish this article a while back, but  – perhaps understandably for a piece about the needless accumulation of words – the author of it has put his or herself through the wrangler; writing, re-writing, editing, re-editing and, finally, putting forward something with which they were (in their own dear words) ‘only moderately satisfied’.

I will, for now, stand back from making a judgment of my own – allowing my thoughts to rest instead on the pleasure it gives me to present yet another article from a journal that a few people have, quite unfairly, proclaimed ‘defunct’. Fools. Not only are we publishing this – but we have on the way, I promise you, still further writings, each more tasty than the last. So, in the words of a loquacious vulture: ‘now shalt the feasting commence’!

Making Old Books New with Donald Bready

[Incidentally, the author of this article has chosen to remain anonymous]

The Character of Individual Contributions

‘He had a way of editing every article sent in to him until it became more than a fair imitation of his own. I can sympathize with his object – the artist’s desire for harmony, for the unity of the paper as a whole. But if he succeeded, as he did, it was at the sacrifice of the force, the effect, the character of individual contributions’  (Elizabeth Pennell on W E Henley, ex-editor of the National Observer)

Ah, the trials and tribulations of being an editor! Funnily enough, I have been accused (here, amongst other places) of both of the above; of only publishing things that offer an echo of my own voice and of publishing things that represent too many disparate voices. If I’ve aimed for either, however, I’d have to say that it’s the latter. I never sought to create a journal that is, in essence, a unified manifesto. I would prefer it if contributors agreed with me on certain significant points, maybe, but to agree with me on every point would be a tiresome business indeed. The extent to which I have ensured that critics feel free to attack or contradict me within the pages of my own journal (see the second-half of this article) has led people, on more than one occasion, to brand me as a pervert, obsessed with self-criticism.

Well, as they say, ‘whatever turns you on’…

In other news this unpleasant English morning, it is with some relief that I am at last about to leave these distinctly un-summery shores for a month or so (see a post or two below). For fairer climes? I cannot say. Rest assured, under the present circumstances, it’d be quite a challenge to find a place any less fair.

Once I have gone through the one or two day struggle of finding an appropriately sized swan to carry me and a bag over the Atlantic ocean (which, with the promise of English gales, may be harder than usual) posts will no doubt continue.

Paid, even

As lines from the poem in the previous post imply, young authors have been known since time immemorial (or roundabouts), to suffer at the hands of magazine editors. Mental hospital wardens (those wily tittle-tattles) have told countless tales of literary lunacy; of velvet-jacketed artists wandering mournfully through asylum corridors, lost in endless murmurs about deadlines and word-limits. One poor man is said to have fallen into a deep faint whenever his editor’s name was mentioned, whilst many others are forced into soul-destroying poverty by their boss’s failure to supply the paycheck on time. The greatest danger – as Holubk hints – is the seemingly friendly editor: the one who plays the gentle father role to young artists; who offers comfort early on in their careers, only to cut the rope soon after – or else squeeze whatever talent they had into a jug of brainless tasks.

I would make a poor anaconda: I do not squeeze well. At best, I nudge talent out of people.  No, as I have already established, I have never been a rampaging carnivore. If I have a roar, it is a quiet one; a roar which dribbles out into words (where it is dispersed, usually, in the manner of a moderate gentleman). If I am any animal, I would say that I am a fly. A fly caught  – like most of us are – in the eternal web of grievous misunderstandings.

There is no time to deal with all of these misunderstandings. Perhaps I may fit them into a book one day (fourteen volumes should just about cover it). For today, however, let us land our metaphorical helicopters on just one of these editor-related issues.

Money, dosh, cash, clink, mazuma: call it what you will (I call it ‘tickles’), there’s no denying the problems it causes. As you may know, a while back a reviewer accused me, within an article published in my journal, of not paying my contributors (or to be more exact: of not paying him). This caused not a little fuss, with at least one letter of complaint arriving on my doormat. Luckily, like a fire in a fog, things soon died down. I explained (in private, for I wrongly supposed the public didn’t need to know) that there had been some confusion at the bank and that normal service would be resumed forthwith. Into the envelope I slipped a lollipop (lime flavour) and a photocopy of a poem by Brszny Derydaripov – not as a bribe, you understand, but as a gesture of goodwill.

Clearly I should have made a much greater attempt to inform the wider community that I was not, in fact, a stingy slave-driver. For, as it transpires, the tag has stuck to me like a stream of bindweed. Witness, for instance, the reaction that a reader recently took to this line in Mylena Dyman’s review of the aforementioned Fritz Kakfa. Here is a line from Dyman’s text, expressing the writer’s joy at being paid by a Czech newspaper to do what was for her enjoyable work:

“Then, for three solid months, I was happily employed – paid, even – to follow every twist and turn of the incredible story of Fritz Kakfa”

Simple enough. Fancy my surprise, therefore, when I found out that someone had chosen read this sentence as a direct reference to the supposedly ‘un-paid’ employment offered by yours truly (of which the writing of this review was thought to be part). To put it another way, they saw this statement, utterly unrelated to financial issues within my circle of contributors, as a frank jibe against my person.

There are all sorts of ways in which I could reply to this accusation. After careful thought (much of it done in the bath) I have opted for this one.

Careless reader, I have met many a wiser mooncalf than thee.