2010 October 3
We like to think that Stories and Beer brings the vitality of 1950s Beat movement San Francisco Chinatown to the middle west. It's a bumpy flight. If critics have dismissed the S&B scene as a regression to drunken chauvinism, it is also a happy throwback to an imagined time when literature drew a crowd, and serious fiction was not held prisoner behind the paper curtain of university walls. Sure, it's mostly men, students, reading writing for mostly men, but it is the kind of fun, informal barroom atmosphere where female heckling would fit right in. There are even bottles to throw.
Sunday's reading began with an oral history by Paul Wirth, owner of the venue, The Iron Post, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Wirth prefaced his story with some (possibly affectionate, possibly not) Urbana liberal bashing, then segued into a tale about an incident in his life involving a diseased pine tree and some chickens. He was telling us a story, and not reading fiction, so there was a directness to this presentation seldom felt in these kinds of circles. He was not reading a computer print-out to itself.
My impression of Josh Bishoff from last year's Stories and Beer was corroborated by his reading last Sunday, which began with a special word of explanation "for those who don't have testicles." (There is actually a word for this sort of person.) Josh Bishoff is, it seems, a male writer who writes about male sexuality from a male writer's perspective for an audience of mostly male writers. His story was from the point of view of a manly man (coach) addressing a (locker) room filled with exclusively men (athletes) about their balls. "Sack-tapping," is what I think he said it was about. This story accomplished the magical feat of being entirely about men who touch each other's testicles while still retaining a homophobic flavor. The word "shitbirds" was used three times. I asked the guy to my right what he thought, and he said, "why do grad students always write about getting laid?"
Because literature is undeniably such a potent force in society, many young writers feel they do not need to enunciate. Russ Evatt took the mike and began by explaining something about how he was not going to read fiction, and then read something, presumably nonfiction, about forest fires. He stopped halfway through to apologize because he thought this nonfiction was too poetic. This was a lot of apparatus, I felt, but I suppose it is important to know which genre a thing is. I think Evatt also said something about how he had a sore throat. I hope the recording comes out. I asked the guy to my left what he thought, and the guy said, "I play basketball with him, so I can't comment."
There was then an unnecessary intermission.
Following this, Aaron Burch read from How to Predict the Weather, an attractive, highly readable, newly-published collection of short-short stories about characters who are referred to only with pronouns, interspersed with pages set in italic type written with a dreamy quality. His reading from his new book was very cool and polite, crisp and tasteful. He enunciated. The writing was good. I noticed no cussing. Then he read a poem that included disingenuous anal sex and "fucking Jesus."
The future of literature is one step forward and two steps back.
And three steps forward: the organizers of Stories and Beer wisely ended the evening with the confident, precocious Lindsay Hunter, who read from her new book, Daddy's (pictured above). Lindsay Hunter is not a dude, and the word "demure" came to mind only prefaced by the word "not." She was fast, funny and cool. She read a piece with vomit, diarrhea, sex (lesbian, I think), neck fat, a half-chub, chicken, testicles (in a man's mouth), more vomit, and blood. This reminded me that I once read on the wall of a university art gallery a pretentious artist's statement which included the sentence, "My work is about the Body." Lindsay Hunter's prose is loud meat. I asked the guy to my right what he thought, and he used the word "visceral." Nice. Go, Lindsay. The men of Stories and Beer are glad you made the trip down from Chicago.