What Happened to Proletarian Literature?

Populist Fiction

THERE WAS A TIME. . . .

There was a time when the American literary scene was defined by proletarian writing. Notably in the 1930’s, with the novels of John Steinbeck (Cannery Row, In Dubious Battle, The Grapes of Wrath) but from others, all-but-forgotten names like Horace McCoy, James T. Farrell, and Jack Conroy. The genre became so important that no less an author than Ernest Hemingway tried his hand at it, with the regrettable artistic and commercial failure To Have and Have Not.

After World War II the literary establishment, whether from reasons of commerce or ideology, de-emphasized populist writing. Scattered authors continued to add their insights and experiences. The excellent novella On the Line by Harvey Swados (1957) was one of them. By and large, though, with the rise of middle-class MFA programs and word-focused “literary” writing, the proletarian style of American literature fell by the wayside.

WHAT is the proletarian style? It’s marked by unpretentious prose– no sparkling Updike stylistic fireworks, sorry. No David Foster Wallace convoluted ruminations. Instead, simple accumulation of hard experience, focused on the working class, usually about economic hardship or collapse. Leaving the reader with a very different sort of impact. As if the reader had been– appropriately– punched between the eyes.

WE have an excellent contemporary example of the form, from a writer of now, Tim O’Connor, who gives us “The Baler.” In his story O’Connor expresses past hopes along with a disillusion which runs through many new writers. Amid a swiftly-changing world, an absence of faith in the future– in their future. As the editors of this site are from the long-beaten-down city of Detroit, we know that feeling well. As if the floor has dropped out from beneath you.

“The Baler” is a visit into a land alien to many Americans, the industrial world–

It’s the kind of scene you’d expect a factory worker to thrive in. The one where all the men at the bar are middle-aged and overweight. A majority of them have thick mustaches and wear thirty-year-old hats with retro beer logos on them. If you squint your eyes hard enough you can imagine them crushing cans of Schlitz, commiserating over another failed pennant race by the Tribe under the glow of a neon sign.

Thmas Hart Benton-Boomtown-mural

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(Art: “Detroit Industry” by Diego Rivera; “Boomtown” by Thomas Hart Benton.)

 

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New Poetry: A. J. Huffman

Poetry

ART presents perspectives.

New literary art at its best offers fresh perspectives– unique ways of viewing everyday reality. What poet A. J. Huffman does in “Fast Food Religion and Other Poems.” From dinosaurs to drive-thru windows, Huffman’s four poems display a range of insight, visuality, and commentary– each of them a puzzle or a painting waiting to be deciphered.

Imagination triggers transportation
to prehistoric jungle. A distant air-born
monster screams welcome!

Agathaumas

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(Art: “The Conversion of St. Augustine” by Fra Angelico; “Agathaumas” by Charles R. Knight.)

Fiction: Life in High School Now

Pop Lit Fiction

THE NEW GENERATION

WHAT are the kids doing, thinking experiencing? HOW are their lives different from ours? What’s changed? What burdens, obstacles, expectations and insanities are they going through– beyond those which we who’ve been around longer have already faced?

HAS there ever been a more connected yet more alienated generation?

WILL they soon simply proclaim in one voice “Enough!” and be done with all of it, and with us?

QUESTIONS which are raised by our new feature story by recent high school student A.K. Riddle, “Now All the Kids Are Making Noise Just Because It’s Something to Do.”

Experience? A.K. gives us a ton of it, along with the emotion and confusion of being young– of being human. Along with exceptional writing. Plus, a structure which doesn’t fit a predictable mold– which one would expect and want from an artistically fresh and talented young writer.

There’s a lot going on in this story. We hope you like it.

I wished I could play with them and laugh along to their jokes and sing along to their rap. But, as I looked to the clear sky and opened the door a little to feel the cold air, I remembered that I was just a poet. I was just there to tell their stories, not be like them. I don’t know if I liked it that way, but that’s just the way things were.

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(Painting: “The Dance of Life” by Edvard Munch.)

Our Insane World

Pop Lit Fiction

WE meaning mankind have existed in insane periods in the past many writers and artists throughout history have been judged or diagnosed insane including Van Gogh and others like Dostoevsky Beethoven and Kafka have been on the edge, there have been crazy times, but have they been quite as extreme and chaotic as flat out mad crazy as OUR time? Now, in 2018?

Blame it on electronic media? Facebook? Twitter? Video games? The collapse of culture and decay of civilization?

TO ILLUSTRATE today’s madness we present to you the reader a story by Andrew Walker, “Blue Men in Black Coats,” which floats in between reality and madness, so that we ask, “Is this real? Any of this real? Or is it too real?” The story is too spot on, too much a presentation of now and the insane world which surrounds us.

The blue men do not look at you. From the books you’ve read, the shows you used to watch, the notes scribbled down in the pocket notebook you don’t use enough, you figured they would be some sort of bizarre, alien force come to act as a metaphor, an image, a symbol. Something come alive from the stories you have yet to write.

But these blue men appear to only be existing as anyone else would: to enjoy their Saturday.

picass_blue_room

(Art: “Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe” by Van Gogh; “Blue Room” by Picasso.)

 

 

Poetry: The Vanishing Church?

Poetry

WE’RE not political but we try to be topical.

Tradition is under assault as never before. Will the foundations of our civilization be wiped from our computers, our minds, our memory banks? Our traditions and history, our institutions, are flawed, sure, as mankind is irrational and flawed. Many want us to start over with a blank slate. To wipe away all tradition, roots, past.

A lobotomy is a blank slate.

THESE musings prodded by our new featured poetry, In a Darkened Cathedral and Other Poems by Benjamin Welton. Thought-provoking poems for a contentious and thought-provoking time.

The priest, an old man, is in bed.
I am the only one left in a rotten pew.
The gray stone walls leak with black moisture.

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ALSO, almost on topic is our latest New Pop Lit News post– an editorial on the emptiness of our post-truth age.

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(Painting of St. Peter’s by Giovanni Paolo Panini.)

 

Poetry: Farewell to Summer

Poetry

LABOR DAY in the United States is upon us! Traditionally, marking the end of summer. Of lazy days and magical nights during which anything can happen. To celebrate the soon-to-vanish season, we present “On Midsummer’s Night” by C.A. Shoultz— containing wisps of ghosts of night which themselves may disappear before we’ve fully experienced their call, their magic.

And then a child appeared to me–
Or not a child, for so he seemed
Much older than he looked to be.
He handed me a crimson mask.
For life and love,” he said, so free–
I shrugged, and put the red mask on,
And through the woods was further drawn.

JohnSimmons-Hermia_and_Lysander._A_Midsummer_Night's_Dream

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ALSO– Labor Day means the return of classes and students to colleges across the land. Will the reintroduction of one of America’s most renowned writers, Junot Diaz, to the public world as a professor at MIT go smoothly? We’ve covered the controversy all summer at our NPL News site. Here’s background on the issue.

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FINALLY, we introduce our Complaint Department. Have a problem with ourselves, our site, or our ideas? Let us know about it! Thanks.

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(Main painting by Ferdinand du Puigaudeau; second painting by John Simmons.)

Revamping Fiction

Pop Lit Fiction

WE’VE begun to rethink several aspects of this project. One of the items on our planning table is fiction– the style offered. We’re toying with prototypes– will eventually implement tighter requirements. That it be dynamic, punchy, readable, fast, and if possible, fun. The future story will need to slap the reader in the face and grab that person by the collar, in order to survive as an art form.

EVIDENCE shows that the finely-detailed, well-crafted literary story is as slow and obsolete as a Studebaker automobile.

1961_Studebaker_Lark_VI_four-door_sedan

It reaches no one beyond a finely educated clique. A literary priesthood, stodgy and complacent, well-suited for preserving the literary art but not for taking it to new areas.

profs

OUR NEWEST offering, “Hats Off to Bob” by Bob Lorentson– a story about hats!– gives a basic template to build on. Likeable and readable, with a modest-but-amusing punchline. Lorentson isn’t Ernest Hemingway. (Who is?) But we think Hemingway would appreciate what Bob Lorentson does with this unpretentious tale. If not a Corvette, then a Mini Cooper.

Mini_Cooper_Facelift_front

Confidence. As much as he hated to admit it, he knew that he lacked the confidence that all those other people had. Or appeared to have. All thanks to his wimpy name and bland, impotent face. Things he had absolutely no control over. It wasn’t fair. How could he go about getting more confident?

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OUR LATEST New Pop Lit News report is about dinosaur booksellers, specifically Barnes and Noble. Read it here.

WHAT’S the future of books and literature? We’re not sure, but we know they belong to everyone.
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(Art: “Her Paintings, Her Objects” by Sonia Delaunay.)

 

 

Censors in Literature

Controversy

IN THE CROSS HAIRS?

HAS the coverage at our NPL News blog– of attempts to remove, blacklist, blackball, censor, ban, or banish writers as diverse as Junot Diaz, Rachel Custer, Jay Asher, and Joseph Massey, from jobs and web sites; or label them with a gamut of crimes– made ourselves a target of self-appointed literary cops?

IS ONE allowed to hold a contrary viewpoint– on these issues or other issues?

NO ONE covers happenings in today’s literary scene as thoroughly and fearlessly as ourselves. Here are our most recent posts on the issue of book-world censorship, with more to follow.

“Power Grabbers of Literature”

“Should Writers Be Purged?”

“Who Defends Artistic Expression?”

“Public Denunciations in Art”

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(Art: “Premier Disque” by Robert Delaunay.)

New Fiction: “The Monologue”

Pop Lit Fiction

IT’S TOUGH being an artist, of any kind. Struggling to carry through your dream even when the entirety of your life and the world in a conformist machine age is operating against you.

IN new summer fiction, “The Monologue,” Jack Coey examines those struggles– in this case involving a young actor about to audition for a traveling theater company. A lot is on the line for him.

Can you feel his nervousness?

He was twenty-eight years old, and his father was impatient for him to grow up. He didn’t think about it, but there was a lot riding on this audition. He watched a cockroach cross the floor.

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(Art: “Performance in the Bolshoi Theater” by Mihaly Zichy.)

The Battle Over Speech 2018

Controversy

Which side are YOU on?

The BATTLE over freedom of speech in America is heating up– and New Pop Lit is in the middle of it.

AT our New Pop Lit News blog we’ve been covering the squelching of speech; the censoring, banning, and blackballing of writers occurring RIGHT NOW across the internet.

banned

Three recent articles:

-A controversial Report about editors censoring, or apologizing for, writers at an Ohio State journal and at other venues.

-A Report about the removal of a Junot Diaz podcast from a book-world site, and the rationale behind this.

-A Report about the media frenzy generated by anonymous accusations against another prominent author, Jay Asher.

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FURTHER, to exhibit our belief that any topic is fair game for the talented writer, we’re reviving our Open Mic with an audio reading by D.C. Miller of his strange, perplexing, and provocative poem, “Antifa Whore.” 

We’re out to have fun– but every so often we’ll test the envelope. To misquote a critic, we’re diet edgy.

(But we also want people to know what side we’re on where freedom of expression is concerned.)
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(Art: “The Brawl” by Ernest Meissonier.)