Saturday, May 7, 2011

Poetaster trivia!

Made some trivia for Poetaster on Goodreads. Was fun to go through an old book. Poetaster is quite a bit darker and raw than Zeus - kind of a shock to flip between the two.

Anyway, have a go at some poetry trivia! (Any poets out there interested in building a pub-quiz around poetry?)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Encounters with the Underground - a tribute to Steve Kostecke

It is with great shock and much sadness that I learned yesterday that good friend, fellow indie writer and founding member of the Underground Literary Alliance Steve Kostecke recently passed away.

Steve was instrumental in my own involvement in the underground writing scene and had the distinction (among many more notable distinctions) of being the only indie writer and ULA member I've actually met in person.

When I started Red Fez back in 2002 it was a project born out of total isolation from any sort of writing community (particularly the insular academic/lit journal community) and frustration with the lottery-like publishing process of the status quo. Red Fez, and my writing, floundered for a few years until I came across a lovely little writeup in Broken Pencil on Slush Pile, the Underground Literary Alliance's zine. It was an awakening to the fact that I was not alone in my frustration with the system, and that there were others out there acting against it and being far more effective at it! Slush Pile, amazingly edited and assembled in Asia and then shipped back to the US to be printed, not only published a sort of raw, gripping writing I had never experienced before, but articulated a lot of what I had been unable to put into words. I wrote an email to the zine publisher about my efforts with Red Fez, asking to learn more about this ULA organization. Steve Kostecke wrote back.

A lot of Steve's personality was constructed in my mind, as with most online relationships, from emails. I never could quite get a grip on who he was. His writing was raw and both bashedly and unabashedly macho. He was, somehow, the strong, cocky, unrooted silent type, operating a literary revolution in North America from while teaching English across Asia. Steve, as Karl Wenclas puts it in his memory, had a zen-buddhist personality, straightforward, approachable, honest, unpretentious....combined with the cocky smarts of a fly-boy.

Steve lured me in to the ULA, first as a Canadian correspondent, and then as a full fledged member. In my opinion he was probably the group's strongest writer (among strong writers) - a sort of modern day Hemmingway, but better, in my opinion. (Seoul in Slices is a great example.) There was an elegant, unwashed  honesty to it - Steve shared everything as it was, as he felt it and didn't feel the need to explain it. His work was documentary like: "travel writing", as Jeff Potter put it in his tribute over at Out Your Backdoor (who published Steve's novel, Wasted Angels), which is accurate, but Steve's writing far too little credit. Karl Wenclas, another co-founder of the group, states that Steve was the ULA member he least expected to leave this early because of his cool-headed nature. I'd add that his openness and non-judgmental attitude also made him seem like the member least likely to have helped found the outrageous activist group. Steve would associate with almost anybody (a habit that is the genesis of some of his creepier tales of the far-east) and perhaps what frustrated him most about the lit scene was its inability to do the same for indie-writers, it decision to pinch off the water supply and mire itself in a snake-eat-snake's-tail circle of handouts, backscratching and phoney relationships.

Steve was a huge reason why the group was founded and why it lasted as long as it did. Even after the group exploded in the end, spewing out a number of battle hardened writers and spawning groups like the Guild of Outsider Writers and a much stronger Red Fez, Steve declined invitations to join new ventures, believing in the base tenets of the ULA and feeling they were still right. Long after our group relationship had ended I would get updates from him on a number of great back-boiler projects he had going, ready to launch as soon as the ULA got over its squabbling. Pat Simonelli described Steve as the mother of the group and perhaps was too patient with its unruly roost in the end. Steve had the great ideas, the great writing, the smarts...but he wasn't going to bother wrestling anyone to the ground to make them listen. It was a strength and a weakness and it was all Steve.

In the Summer of 2005 I traveled to Japan to meet some friends and had the opportunity to meet with Steve and stay with him a few days in Tokyo. I had always been a bit intimidated by Steve I suppose. His writing was so worldly and macho, but countenanced with that confident, motherly appeal. I spent about three days with Steve and his personality suddenly made so much sense when I met him in person. If you haven't met him, I can't describe it, and it's too late to get a chance to do it now. But he became whole for me in that moment and I was able to finally conclude (there were some doubts!) that Steve was a really amazing guy with a natural love for writing and human expression, particularly in literary form. The world had a lot to learn from Steve, but as the world is, you know, it wasn't really ready to listen. And like Steve was with his writing, he wasn't going to be bothered to smack it around a little to make it pay attention. It was and is the world's loss for it, and a loss for those of us who knew him.

I fell more out of contact with Steve after that, and hadn't heard from him in the last year or two, though I thought of him often, wondering which bar he was sitting at in Japan, or which new girlfriend he was bunking with these days, and always meant to get back in contact with him once things slowed down for me. So it was with a lot of shock and sadness to learn that his travels had ended. But if you weren't out there asking, Steve wasn't going to stand up and slap you in the face with it.

Steve left behind a lot of great work, great ideas, and fond memories. The world lost a great writer and literary thinker this year and doesn't even know it.Rest in Peace, Steve Kostecke. I look forward to hearing about your wild adventures beyond the grave someday.