Surfing the New Literary Wave

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Am mentioned in Sam Jordison’s “Surfing the New Literary Wave”, Guardian Books Blog, 12 February 2007

There may not be many new movements in books, but that’s probably because all the action’s online

Although it’s never entirely enjoyable to be proved wrong, I was still very pleased with the response to a blog I wrote at the end of last year about the lack of literary movements in contemporary literature. My contention might have received a firm rebuff, but following the suggestions in the comments has been most rewarding. They may not signal a new movement exactly, but if our times lack a Generation to rival the Beats, there’s no shortage of energetic underground activity – in cyberspace.

Admittedly there are as many yawning chasms of dull writing as high peaks of excellent prose, but for the past few weeks I’ve thoroughly enjoyed exploring this new landscape. So, with the zeal of the newly returned traveller, I thought I’d compose a rough guide to the highlights.

One of the first stopping points has to be the excellent 3:AM Magazine. 3:AM (with apologies for straining my geographical metaphor yet further) more than delivers on its promise to provide a “dip in edgier waters”. If you scroll down the huge home page, you’ll find a healthy selection of interviews and a large array of short stories. I’d recommend Nathan Wilkinson’s Probability Anxiety for one. Elsewhere, 3:AM editor Andrew Gallix’s own work is well worth reading too.

Closely associated with 3:AM is the Offbeat Generation, a loose confederation of writers, who all – at the very least – show considerable promise. Worth investigation are: HP Tinker, Ben Myers, Paul Ewen, Heidi James, Matthew Coleman, and, especially, Tony O’Neill. The latter seems to be the figurehead for this burgeoning scene. He’s a man who has taken the phrase rock’n’roll poet to its furthest edges, as a former member of the infamous Brian Jonestown Massacre sacked for behaviour too wild even for that notorious band. Having finally cleaned up his act he’s written a memoir due out in April and (already touted as the next underground classic) and some quite brilliant, not to mention shocking, short stories.

The even more sweary cousins of the Offbeat Generation are The Brutalists, following whose trail led me into fascinatingly unexpected territory. Sure a lot of the writing was of the “I’m young! I’m in London! I’m drunk! Look at me!” genre, but there was no denying its energy. Clicking through the links on these various myspace pages was also an amusement in itself. I kept seeing a bare-chested man with a gas mask on his face called “T”, for instance.

I’m reliably informed that this is the author Travis Jeppesen, but all I got from visiting his site was horrific black metal from a band called Krieg and the information that T would like to meet “denizens of the next level” and is interested in combat boots and dwarves. Unsettling as that was, it was Mr Trippy (apparently a pseudonym of the always interesting Stewart Home); who finally convinced me I’d journeyed far enough down that particular link chain, thanks to his offer of “avant-garde porn” and “better living through chemistry”

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic resides the daddy of all online magazines, McSweeney’s. It now has as many detractors as loyal readers, but still seems to have the edge on young pretenders, the particularly user-hostile Underground Literary Alliance and the smart n+1 magazine.

The best US site that I visited came thanks to a tip-off from the editor of the (also excellent) Internet Board Poetry Community blog. It’s MiPoesias, a site distinguished by the realisation that the internet offers unparalleled opportunities to let visitorshear as well as read poetry. Their online audio show isn’t exactly a laugh a minute, but it does offer some fantastic readings from authors, as well as some fine interviews. (The best I’ve heard so far is a retrospective interview with the grand old man of American poetry, Donald Hall.)

Finally, in case anyone is feeling overwhelmed by all this enthusiasm, here’s a healthy dose of cynicism about the whole myspace phenomenon from the excellent Scarlett Thomas. For this link – and several others – I have to acknowledge a debt of gratitude to Brunner, a poster on my movements blog. Thanks! I do consider myself enlightened – and, as you suggested, chastened. If anyone else would like to point out significant sites that I’ve missed, please go ahead.

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