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A horrible poem
November 14, 2009 3:16 AM   Subscribe

A Poem by Stephen King The poem is stored by Playboy.com so NSFW. Also, body horror and vernacular involved.
posted by Sparx (94 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's quite a long poem. Though really it's a form of blank verse. Getting to the end is hard work, though I would recommend doing so before passing judgement.
posted by Sparx at 3:40 AM on November 14, 2009


Bah. Edgar Allen Poe was scarier and his poems rhymed.

Quoth the Raven.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:54 AM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Some of the language was really nice, but the only thing that seems to qualify it as a poem is its enter-key humping, helter-skelter enjambment. Still, worth the climb to the end.
posted by kid ichorous at 3:56 AM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I like Stephen King but I've always found his use of the word "whoresons" jarring.

Is that a New England thing?
posted by bwg at 4:02 AM on November 14, 2009


Bah. Edgar Allen Poe was scarier and his poems rhymed.

Yes. Is there anything scarier than an entire poem made of anapests?

These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll—
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole—
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole.


His liver was Jim Beam, but his heart was pure Vogon.
posted by kid ichorous at 4:14 AM on November 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


Ah, this is slop—slop, I tell you—but never mind; what isn’t?
posted by painquale at 4:16 AM on November 14, 2009


His liver was Jim Beam, but his heart was pure Vogon.

I dunno, it's definitely out of fashion, but I found that Poe poem rhythmically interesting.
posted by painquale at 4:30 AM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Poor man's gone insane. Someone needs to let him know it's time for his nap. And maybe, err, proofread the next thing he sends to his agent to make sure it doesn't have all those excess line breaks.
posted by Limiter at 4:38 AM on November 14, 2009


Is there some point at which authors become too entrenched on the best seller list for editors to risk touching their work? Because that would explain why a writer who debuted as strongly as King never seemed to improve his craft much beyond his early work, and also why his books are twice as thick as they need to be.

That wasn't a poem; it was a short story written on a borrowed keyboard.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:59 AM on November 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


I see it's poem like a pirate day, arr.
posted by localroger at 5:10 AM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


I loved Stephen King's novels for so many years. He used to be able to get to the heart of a community, whether his writing was overworked or not, he understood people and how they relate to one another, and then threw in terrible twists and let those people react.

It seems that, since his accident, he's totally lost his way, and the pop culture columns, the subsequent novels that read like bad copies of his earlier work, and things like this just make me sad. He's never been a great wordsmith, but he used to have something, and I think he's struggling to figure out how to get it back, and refuses to admit that it's most probably gone for good.
posted by xingcat at 5:27 AM on November 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


A Poem By Stephen King (As Imagined by Effigy2000)

I see many People, Places and Things
Among them, Star Invaders
And as I view these Nightmares from the Sky
My thoughts turn to my love, Carrie

She is The Shining light of my life
Her love nurtures me through all The Different Seasons
It means the world to me
And keeps away The Dark Visions

She is My Pretty Pony
Much prettier than Christine
A real Firestarter
And the cause of much of my Insomnia

And on this eventful Nightshift
Which I shared with my coworker Cujo
We abandoned our Roadwork
And fled from the Creepshow

Fled we did do, past the Pet Semetary
And walked up The Green Mile
To take refuge in The Dark Tower
At Four Past Midnight

Outside was The Deadzone
A place full of Misery
As the aliens we soon called The Tommyknockers
Littered the world with their Nightmares and Dreamscapes

Here in this Black House
We did make The Stand
Our hearts at Full Throttle
And Cujo, with the Eyes of the Dragon

Here in our Cell
We rode out The Storm of the Century
When The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
Ran in full of Desperation

Tom was locally known as The Colarado Kid
Dolores Claiborne was his sweetie
A Scrawny Bag of Bones though she was
They had loved one another since Graduation Afternoon

She had brought with her The Bachman Books
And another called On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
If humanity was to perish in a pile of Blood and Smoke
She said that these Six Stories must at least survive

But then, looking out of our Secret Windows
The aliens left as though they were Riding The Bullet
And then we went home in Dolan's Cadillac
And Stephen King Goes to the Movies

That's about as creative and good a story as anything Stephen King churns out these days.
posted by Effigy2000 at 5:33 AM on November 14, 2009 [11 favorites]


I was quite pleased.

The imagery is vivid. The pace is handled masterfully. The story is unique. It's a good poem, one which I would like to hear read aloud.

I like the use of "greensore," the meaning of which only becomes clear with the reading, invoking both the green fever and the crushing heaviness of the green canopy.

There are several lines that invoke the old fashioned story telling of Kipling such as
sprayed both with the claret
we live on (for we’re all alcoholics that way, if you see my figure)
Thank you, Sparx, for posting this. I never read Playboy so it would have past me by.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:38 AM on November 14, 2009


ugh. Too much "invoking." It's a good thing I never claimed to write well.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:41 AM on November 14, 2009


Metafilter: enter-key humping, helter-skelter enjambment.
posted by jquinby at 5:56 AM on November 14, 2009


--and past instead of passed. Fuck me.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:15 AM on November 14, 2009


Stephen King is the best bad horror writer after Lovecraft and this was awesome. Thanks Sparx.
posted by fleetmouse at 6:15 AM on November 14, 2009


So, I see Stephen King still can't write worth a fuck. I tried to read The Stand once...man, that was so awful. I couldn't finish that turd of a book.

Thanks, GavinR, for coming in here to share this insightful comment. I think we're all better for having read it. Next time I think you could do us all a favor and just scroll to the next post down and post your completely useless troll there instead. I know I would appreciate it, and I suspect I'm not alone.

I liked it. The poem, that is. I'm presently plowing through Under the Dome, which is a pretty compelling read so far, if you're into that sort of thing. At a 1,000+ pages, it's his longest book since the last re-issue of The Stand in.. what.. 1993? And it honestly feels like a return to form in some respects. Foot on the accelerator, that's for damn sure.
posted by kbanas at 6:24 AM on November 14, 2009 [10 favorites]


Love me some Stephen King. I'd say it was a guilty pleasure, only I don't feel guilty about it. Thanks, Sparx - I would not have found this without your post.
posted by Pragmatica at 6:44 AM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


The story is unique

Hello? You got your Rime of the Ancient Elephant Graveyard in my Heart of Darkness is unique?

Stephen King's problem is that he was 26 years old when he won the lottery sold Carrie, and he long ago used up the limited store of real world experience he had accumulated by that point in his writing. He is without a doubt one of the best writers our culture has ever produced, but he long ago ran out of things to write about.

The turning point in King's career wasn't the accident, but the novel IT. That was, with one exception I can think of, the last really good thing King ever wrote, and it was like a howl to the Universe of all the horrors that chase us through the hazardous canyon of childhood. It was as if he coughed up all the last remaining bits of creativity he could scrape up and threw them together in a savage stew. After that everything was a 4,000 page long rewrite of some short story he wrote before he was 30. (And the one exeption was The Green Mile, which was almost certainly an exception because he wrote it as a digest on a dare and it forced him into a shorter form.)

If I had written this poem I would not have been able to get it published by the local university literary magazine, much less Playboy, and it would have been heavily edited if I did ("While we are not averse to using sharp language, this particular use of the word "cunt" to describe a small cave just seems gratuitous.") It's too bad there seems to be nobody left who is willing to tell SK that he's written something really, really bad and maybe he should just take a cruise or try birdwatching or learn to fly (well OK that didn't work) or something to get him away from the keyboard for awhile.
posted by localroger at 6:48 AM on November 14, 2009 [7 favorites]


That was a good read. Not a Great poem but well worth my few minutes.

I have a soft spot in my heart for King - partly because he's a good read but mainly because he really loves writing, loves his genre and is quite sincere about it.

He still writes short stories for, for example, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (a favorite of mine, I've read pretty well every issue for 30 years!)

Now, F&SF probably pays him almost nothing; those short stories don't get made into movies (and some of them like "The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet" could never be made into movies); they probably take a substantial portion of the time it take to write a novel, which will make him easily a hundred times what that short story does (even taking into account the eventual reprinting in a collection).

The only reason he writes these short stories is because he wants to: because he loves writing and has an idea he wants to get out and really doesn't care if he makes money on it or not.

I like a man like that.

(I also admire him for his money-losing radio station, where he hired DJs he liked and let them play what they wanted. This decision cost him millions, millions he could afford, but millions he blew just for the love of music and classic radio.)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:00 AM on November 14, 2009 [7 favorites]


He had a short story in this weeks New Yorker -- Premium Harmony. I haven't read it though.
posted by vronsky at 8:05 AM on November 14, 2009




Hello? You got your Rime of the Ancient Elephant Graveyard in my Heart of Darkness is unique?

Because Heart of Darkness is about the search through the Belgium congo for an ivory trader means that every tale about a search through the jungle for X is therefore derivative? Or every story related by the lone survivor is just a feeble echo of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner? Your reading life must be extremely limited by these restrictions. I found it unique because I personally have never come across an adventure yarn that combines black humor and horror in the telling of a search for the apocryphal elephant's graveyard that ends in a surprise-- the surprise being in this case that not only does it exist, it is haunted.


If I had written this poem I would not have been able to get it published by the local university literary magazine, much less Playboy, and it would have been heavily edited if I did ("While we are not averse to using sharp language, this particular use of the word "cunt" to describe a small cave just seems gratuitous."


Interesting that I normally hate the word "cunt" but found the use here (stumbled into a stony cunt) remarkably effective. Not only does it reinforce our feelings about the narrator, but it is a good, strong image; an unaccommodating cleft in the rocks.

And that bit about it not being published if it was submitted by you instead of S. King is a tired old trope worth retiring. Have you tried submitting it as your own work? I read a lot of modern, newly-published poetry and this stands head and shoulders above most.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:19 AM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


--and past instead of passed. Fuck me.

Very Larry David of you.
posted by rokusan at 8:33 AM on November 14, 2009


Actually I quite liked it. Oh yes, I thought that some of the metaphysical imagery was really particularly effective. Oh ... and er ... interesting rhythmic devices too, which seemed to counterpoint the ... er ... er ...

(I really did like it. I think King had a poem in Skeleton Crew that I remember as being pretty cool as well.)
posted by Cookiebastard at 8:35 AM on November 14, 2009


Though really it's a form of blank verse.

Do you mean free verse? Blank verse has a regular meter, most famously iambic pentameter (tee-TUM, tee-TUM, tee-TUM, tee-TUM, tee-TUM).
posted by grumblebee at 8:37 AM on November 14, 2009


This thread is full of haters.

His book On Writing is one of the best books about writing that I've ever read, and a good memoir.

When someone who could've coasted on his early success for years keeps working, keeps producing, through addiction, through recovery, through horrendous chronic pain and severe illness--well, I have to admire the shit out of him even if I don't like any of the 70-something books he's written.
posted by kathrineg at 8:55 AM on November 14, 2009 [12 favorites]


tldr

i hate "poems" that don't rhyme.
posted by lemonfridge at 8:58 AM on November 14, 2009


Good Christ, is there an influx of trolls here or what? I'm not going to claim that King is the best writer around today, or even close to the best, and it is true that excessive length continues to be his biggest problem; but he also continues to write worthwhile fiction every so often, and has (gasp!) actually done good work recently. Are you really going to tell me you didn't like "Lunch at the Gotham Cafe?" You found nothing worthwhile in Bag of Bones, Duma Key, or "Road Virus Heads North?" Not even in the quite well-done Lovecraftian pastiche "N."? Oh, that's right: you probably didn't read any of those; you just jumped in to get your GRAAAAAR on. Thanks for spewing uninformed bile all over the place!
posted by Frobenius Twist at 9:06 AM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hah, that Poe fragment put me in mind of this. Pulpy poets, I summon thee!
posted by mwhybark at 9:09 AM on November 14, 2009


It hurts to admit it, but the man has completely lost his chops. His last *great* book was Misery. After that came the clunker that was Gerald's game, and from there it was all downhill (with a few exceptions). I think the problem is that he got tired of writing the penny dreadfuls that he was known and loved for, and instead decided that he wanted to be taken seriously as a Writer.

Case in point -- I finally got around to reading his latest short story collection. Everything's Eventual was one of the few bright spots in his post-Gerald's Game career, so I figured that at very least the man still knew how to write a short story. Boy was I mistaken. There was really only one story in the whole collection -- The Stationary Bicycle -- that could go toe-to-toe with his earlier work. The rest of them just made me think, "I can't believe that he used to be good at this!" Probably the worst was "N." -- not only because it was such a plodding, anticlimactic trainwreck, but because I could see in my mind how an earlier Steven King could have done so much more with it.

Interestingly, I would say that right now, his son (the writer Joe Hill) is every bit the writer that King used to be (and perhaps even a bit more). After I put down "Just After Sunset," I picked up a copy of Heart Shaped Box, and I'll tell you, it was satisfying in every way that "Just After Sunset" was disappointing. It scratched the itch. Tight, well-constructed prose, vivid descriptions, and that all-important page-turner quality that keeps one up reading long past their bedtime. After that, I went straight to 20th Century Ghosts, which was excellent and amazing and awesome, and I would recommend it to any serious fan of horror. One of the best collections of short stories I've ever read.

There is no way that "Just After Sunset" would have been published had it not been written by Steven King. On the flip-side, I think 20th Century Ghosts would have been published and acclaimed even if it hadn't been written by the son of a popular writer.

And while I doubt that King has much left in him as far as good writing goes, I am VERY MUCH looking forward to Hill's new book, which I believe comes out in February. I think it's safe to say that the student has surpassed the master at this point.

Really, King should
posted by Afroblanco at 9:12 AM on November 14, 2009


N was pretty rocking, but yeah, Just After Sunset is the first King short Story collection I've actually been disapointed by.

I'd still take someone posting something like "So, I see Stephen King still can't write worth a fuck" as a sure sign that someone was a know-nothing grandstander whose opinion should be ignored on pretty much anything though.
posted by Artw at 9:20 AM on November 14, 2009


I enjoyed that.

i hate "poems" that don't rhyme.

You are missing very much
--or--
I have been trolled.
posted by everichon at 9:24 AM on November 14, 2009


"Ackerman bit by a snake what dropped
out of a tree where it hung like a lady’s fur stole
draped on a branch."

That's a really nice image.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:30 AM on November 14, 2009


TBH I think I'd prefer it reworked as a prose story. But I;m kind of prejudiced that way.
posted by Artw at 9:35 AM on November 14, 2009


I only read Playboy for the Langoliers
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:38 AM on November 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


Aha! Found it!

Paranoid: A Chant

From Skeleton Crew
posted by Cookiebastard at 9:40 AM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's a really nice image.

It's full of really nice images. Even when I'm not enjoying a particular piece of his writing, it's still painting pictures in my head. His ability to set things vividly before the mind's eye is astonishing.

I admit there's a certain tension between the strong images and the hard-to-take-seriously diction of the narrator in this poem, but (here I go mentioning Lovecraft again) you find the same thing in the old man's tale in Shadow Over Innsmouth, and that's a fine story.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:49 AM on November 14, 2009


Is this something I would have to read to understand?
posted by The Devil Tesla at 9:51 AM on November 14, 2009


Afroblanco: "After that came the clunker that was Gerald's game"

Bite your tongue, Gerald's Game was awesome. Of course I read it when I was 10.

I think that people grow out of Stephen King's stuff, and generally remember the books that came out when they were a certain age as being the "good" books by him and everything else as kinda "meh", like how pop music was way better when you were a teenager and the new stuff coming out now just isn't as good.
posted by kathrineg at 9:52 AM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just because someone does not like the same things you like does not mean they are "missing" anything. Actually, it does. You know what they are missing? They are missing shit they don't like.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:57 AM on November 14, 2009


Secret Life of Gravy: I read a lot of modern, newly-published poetry and this stands head and shoulders above most.

I love it that we live in a time when everybody can find the kind of poetry they want to read, if they go looking for it. To me, King's poem stood head and shoulders and torso BELOW most of what I read, but I bet I have an entirely different set of criteria for "good" (or even for "poem") than yours. I have this fantasy that someday we'll all stop mistaking our own local criteria for global criteria -- not a dig at you specifically, just at the way these sorts of discussions go.

lemonfridge: i hate "poems" that don't rhyme.

Oh you tiny, adorable little troll!! I want to dress you up in a little velvet sailor outfit, you're so precious!!
posted by sleevener at 9:58 AM on November 14, 2009


As a very-long-time Stephen King fan, I'm amused by how many people here think that King has definitely, unarguably lost it (or never had it), but can't quite agree on which book he jumped the shark with. I do think that the quality of his work can be wildly uneven, but what you like and don't like doesn't tend to map with anyone else's assessment, even King's. So, people betray an intimate familiarity with his works, even as they put them down. Amusing.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:00 AM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


You know what? Reading to choildren a lot recently has given me a new appreciation for stuff that rhymes - it's fun to read. This, I am not sure how I would read.
posted by Artw at 10:01 AM on November 14, 2009


I have read only one book by King (other than his memoir, On Writing, which I thought was surprisingly good) -- The Girl Who Loves Tom Gordon, and I have to say, I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.
posted by vronsky at 10:16 AM on November 14, 2009


Not only does it not rhyme it doesn't go 'tum ti-tum t-tum' either!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:21 AM on November 14, 2009


Since we're on the subject of Stephen King, I would like to complain about his recent story in The New Yorker, which was pretty bad. And by pretty bad, I mean AWFUL.
posted by betweenthebars at 10:22 AM on November 14, 2009


i hate "poems" that don't rhyme.

I know, right?
posted by Bookhouse at 10:30 AM on November 14, 2009


I just wrote a really acid takedown of the guy, but thought better of it and erased it.
posted by nevercalm at 10:46 AM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's odd with King because when I was younger I read loads of his stuff, including re-reading his early short-story collections several times but I haven't read anything of his for years, and nothing, bar On Writing, since Tommy Knockers. I had thought it was me who had outgrown him but now I'm not so sure.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:51 AM on November 14, 2009


The short story collections prior to Before Sunset were always worth it, though they have a lower stand-out hit rate as you progress. There's certainly a lot more... meandering than before.
posted by Artw at 10:57 AM on November 14, 2009


Oh, and next to everything is now set in Florida.
posted by Artw at 10:58 AM on November 14, 2009


It's full of really nice images. Even when I'm not enjoying a particular piece of his writing, it's still painting pictures in my head. His ability to set things vividly before the mind's eye is astonishing.

Yes. Maybe it's because I'm in my first-ever creative writing course, but I've gained so much more appreciation for authors I didn't really like before. I think it's because I've recently been reading works as an aspiring writer rather than as a reader. I'm not particularly a fan of King's work, but boy howdy if I could have half his talent I'd be happy.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:06 AM on November 14, 2009


I incredibly enjoy Steven King's writings, but I honestly never bring it up because of all the scorn people seem to have for him. On Writing is one of the best books (er) on writing that I've ever read.
posted by flatluigi at 11:08 AM on November 14, 2009


I never read Playboy so it would have past me by.

I swear on the blind, shuddering mass of Azathoth that I got the link from someone else's blog. Gaiman's IIRC

Do you mean free verse? Blank verse has a regular meter


Yes, I did. It was approaching midnight when I posted, and, almost as if small meddling demons were swimming in my beer, I blanked on free, for good or ill.

Not only does it not rhyme it doesn't go 'tum ti-tum t-tum' either!

tee-TUM, tee-TUM, tee-TUM, tee-TUM, tee-TUM
The dessicated corpse of bearish Pooh
Is hungry and upon his lips a Hum
posted by Sparx at 11:21 AM on November 14, 2009


Oh, and next to everything is now set in Florida.

Under the Dome returns to New England. I am happy.
posted by kbanas at 11:22 AM on November 14, 2009


"I know, right?"

So was Milton trying to tell us that being bad is more fun than being good?

He's a little bit long winded, he doesnt translate well into our generation and his jokes are terrible.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 11:55 AM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Man. Under The Dome does sound interesting, but listen to this from the book's wikipedia page:

The preliminary dust jacket cover art was released to online retailers like Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble with the words "cover to be unveiled". In late August 2009 it was revealed that the real cover would be unveiled on October 5, 2009, with parts of it being shown on September 21, 25, and 28.

Admittedly, its a pretty neat graphic, but ... that's a little excessive.
posted by mannequito at 12:02 PM on November 14, 2009


This poem does contain some gripping images. King still does that well when he cares to. Unfortunately, that's all this poem has; it has no story, or at least no story that hasn't been told better a thousand times before by people including King himself, and telling it in free verse isn't a substitute for that, it's just annoying.

Interesting that I normally hate the word "cunt" but found the use here (stumbled into a stony cunt) remarkably effective. Not only does it reinforce our feelings about the narrator, but it is a good, strong image; an unaccommodating cleft in the rocks.

It made me feel that the narrator should spend less time fooling around in the jungle and more time getting laid.
posted by localroger at 12:10 PM on November 14, 2009


Stephen King was my gateway drug into literature when I was book hating teen. I'd probably be wasting my life watching television and being on the internet if it wasn't for....oh wait.
posted by cazoo at 12:39 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Afroblanco: "After that came the clunker that was Gerald's game"

Bite your tongue, Gerald's Game was awesome. Of course I read it when I was 10.


Heavy stuff for a ten year old.

I read it three months ago. And still thought it was awesome. One of the things that I admire about King is that, though he clearly has some issues with women that sometimes come through in his writing, he writes as a woman really really convincingly--he's not afraid to empathize, and let the reader fully empathize, with them. Gerald's Game and Dolores Claiborne are probably two of my favorites by him. Sure, his writing as a whole is sometimes uneven, sometimes messy, but there are still unbelievably bright spots. If you've read Lisey's Story, I can't imagine the phrase "A bool! A blood bool!" not giving you shivers, even if the book was imperfect as a whole. That's okay--for someone with so many books, and so many spots of brilliance within them, I can tolerate a lot of unevenness.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:06 PM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Before I even noticed the publication I read in the Firefox header "The Bone Church Playboy", which is what Nick Cave would have called it; and now that he's been name checked King's poem does have some similarities with Cave's style. Actually this wasn't bad: if King's fiction tried as hard as his poetry (and didn't completely half ass the endings) I might have remained a fan past my adolescence.
posted by squeakyfromme at 1:10 PM on November 14, 2009


I read a lot of modern, newly-published poetry and this stands head and shoulders above most.

Huh. To say that this stands head and shoulders above most modern poetry as a Stephen King story is a perfectly defensible statement, but to say that this stands head and shoulders above most modern poetry as a poem is pretty eyebrow-raising, not to mention a bit insulting to the brave men and women who have made their careers by not writing lines like, "Arr, it's a dirty place, this reality."
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 1:12 PM on November 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


not to mention a bit insulting to the brave men and women who have made their careers by not writing lines like, "Arr, it's a dirty place, this reality."

Attention snarkers: that right there is how you do smart ass funny but still manage to make a point at the same time.
posted by squeakyfromme at 1:24 PM on November 14, 2009


You can definitely tell whether King was on cocaine or painkillers while writing. Danse Macabre and Tommyknockers are coke books; Buick 8 and Just After Sunset are oxy books.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:39 PM on November 14, 2009


Stephen King in some ways is Bruce Springsteen. That's meant as a compliment to both men. Both have remarkable talent and a connection to "the common man." Both have an oeuvre which is of consistently high quality, let down by a clunker or three--though the clunkers tend to be unremarkable rather than truly wretched. Both are remarkably good at setting scenes and evoking images in the mind's eye, and they know and empathize with the people they write about. Neither is likely to be held in anything but disdain by people invested in being known as "intelligent."
posted by maxwelton at 1:45 PM on November 14, 2009 [7 favorites]


I love Stephen King's books. That he is a "horror" writer is his misfortune, for horror is a genre held in fashionable disdain by the self-impressed literati. On the average, rightly so. Horror contains a vast number of clunkers, and as a genre is almost uniquely subject to prejudices of its emotional evocation: people who found a horror book deeply disturbing will often say that they "did not like it", entirely missing the point. In that way it is the flip-side of titillation literature, where people will think fondly of the most awful trash merely because it gave them an orgasm.

Stephen King is a great horror writer, because he makes you care about the people his plots put in danger. He goes to that trouble, which makes handcuffs and a bedstead far more disturbing, to my mind, than the horrendous tortures of the Cenobites which, to my mind, are mere grotesqueries for their own sake, crossing the line from fearsome and disturbing into absurd and disgusting - a glistening snotball on the end of a grinning child's finger, held up for us to see.

Stephen King never does that. The physical suffering he describes is simple, and the worse for that simplicity.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:37 PM on November 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


Stephen King in some ways is Bruce Springsteen. Neither is likely to be held in anything but disdain by people invested in being known as "intelligent."

That sounds good, but is it really true? I mean, I haven't heard anyone talk that way about Bruce Springsteen since before I was born, and in the midst of his current critical renaissance, I would think people would be more embarrassed to admit that they don't appreciate him than that they do. Stephen King is a bit trickier, since horror is not a near-universally enjoyed taste in the same way that stadium rock is, but I don't know if it's true of him either. Witness, for example, the serious consideration he is given here on Metafilter.

That he is a "horror" writer is his misfortune, for horror is a genre held in fashionable disdain by the self-impressed literati.

Again, statements like these make me uneasy, since they suggest that the only reason people could fail to acknowledge Stephen King's gift is because they are "self-impressed literati" who are "invested in being known as intelligent"--that is, because they are pretentious fakers, on some fundamental level. Isn't the more likely option that a lot of people simply don't like horror? It would be one thing if they secretly loved Stephen King but then lied about it in public to protect their reputation, but in my experience, people who love Stephen King are very upfront about it, no matter where their other literary interests may lie. After all, the self-impressed literati has awarded King an O'Henry award and an NBA lifetime achievement award, and On Writing is taken seriously even by people who don't particularly like King's fiction.

Lesson in one direction: Don't be a literary snob. Lesson in the other direction: don't assume that people like different things than you do, or fail to love the things you love, because they are pretentious fakers. Harold Bloom is just one guy, thank God.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 3:11 PM on November 14, 2009


Mandatory: King is a brilliant idea guy and even a damn good storyteller. But I always get the impression that his lack of a good (or empowered?) editor cripples the quality of the end product.

In other words, his 900-page novels have great 350-page stories inside of them.
posted by rokusan at 3:15 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I admire Stephen King's talent, though I have found his books uneven -- and I have read everything except the Dark Tower novels, which I still can't get through. He is not formally trained and that shows. I don't think he plots much in advance, and that can lead to a wandering quality and overlength. But he has a knack for writing that is vivid, both in an auditory and a visual way, and some of his characters and plots just resonate.

I had some trouble with getting into this poem, but I thought it was a worthy effort. And thanks, Vronsky, for the link to Premium Harmony. I hadn't read it before and I thought it was great. The banality and everyday horror of the deaths he portrays in that piece is sticking with me.

As for snarking, I've done my share. I don't think everyone has to like everything, but one great thing about MeFi is that it makes me think hard about my own quick rejections of projects/art/authors/music that are unfamiliar or that I don't "get."
posted by bearwife at 3:22 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that every time Stephen King is mentioned on MeFi, the thread devolves into a "King's awesome/King sucks" debate".

It's one of those arguments that will never be resolved, but it always amazes me that people hate on King so much when guys like Dan Brown are churning out crap like The Da Vinci Code.
posted by bwg at 3:43 PM on November 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


I don't know, Powerful Religious Baby. I really got into reading King about a year and a half ago, while I was still an MFA. I was so impressed by his books that I wanted to talk to, heck, everybody about him. I was really, really surprised by the number of people who said they didn't like him, but either hadn't read him (what they were basing this on, I'm not sure), or hadn't read him since they were thirteen; they said that they hated him without really having concrete reasons for hating him. Granted, this was a limited sampling of a group of, frankly, generally kind of snobby people, but I don't think that it's a stereotype that's been pulled from thin air. If nothing else, I have experienced a very vocal subset of literary readers/writers who were very irked by the awards King's won--and I couldn't help but wonder if some of that is likely sour grapes. But then, generally, it seems like many writers who reach that sort of mainstream success are going to be assumed to be talentless by the literati. I do think that there are some people who believe that you have to be trained to see talent, and the sort of talent that's recognized by just about anybody contradicts that.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:43 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


And that bit about it not being published if it was submitted by you instead of S. King is a tired old trope worth retiring. Have you tried submitting it as your own work?
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 10:19 AM on November 14


Getting rejected after submitting it as your own work wouldn't prove anything. Editors can read Playboy (and Metafilter) too.
posted by joannemerriam at 4:05 PM on November 14, 2009


bwg: "It seems to me that every time Stephen King is mentioned on MeFi, the thread devolves into a "King's awesome/King sucks" debate".

It's one of those arguments that will never be resolved, but it always amazes me that people hate on King so much when guys like Dan Brown are churning out crap like The Da Vinci Code.
"

The problem with Dan Brown is there just isn't any argument.
posted by flatluigi at 4:13 PM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't think he plots much in advance, and that can lead to a wandering quality and overlength. But he has a knack for writing that is vivid, both in an auditory and a visual way, and some of his characters and plots just resonate.

Yeah, but that stopped working for me after a while. Misery was good enough to pull me back in for a bit. Like some other writers (Vonnegut), King nearly always puts himself in the middle of his stories. I think he brings out some of his best ideas when he doesn't do that, such as when he briefly dipped into fantasy writing (and I wish he had continued), though he clearly is most comfortable writing around his own character, writing about what he knows, which is his own head, and he does seem to listen to his own head a lot.

It's frustrating. I keep waiting for that brilliant, succinct lightning bolt like Misery to come around again, but I can't get into these rambling epic works. Tolkien and Herbert were two rare writers who created entire worlds and could write epic tales through these invented histories, but King isn't disciplined enough to make that work well, and his epics always get bogged down in ridiculous character issues that drag out far longer than they should, and really require severe editing, though the opposite seems to take place, and his unedited versions of already-too-long books like The Stand (sorry!) are released regularly.

I only say these things because I love the guy. I grew up reading a lot of fantasy and sci-fi as a kid, but he caught me for a while in my teenage years, and there's something about his voice as a writer which is familiar and comforting, if not a true Master. I do wish he continued to mature as a writer, but it may be too much to expect from someone who is destined to crank out the pop horror like they used to crank out the detective potboilers - some of which were great, but the work was uneven and wasn't remembered for the poetry on the side, because how ridiculous would that be?
posted by krinklyfig at 4:39 PM on November 14, 2009


really require severe editing

Like that sentence I wrote ...
posted by krinklyfig at 4:40 PM on November 14, 2009


OK, after thinking about it a bit, remembering reading my own mediocre attempts at verse at open mic poetry readings, let me amend all this to say that I don't want to discourage such attempts, and even Vogons need love. But, man, Stephen, why not take a nom de plume (and stick to it, resisting temptation to turn around and release it under the King name) and put the work on the line, without your name behind it? Even if it's good, nobody will take it seriously because of the history. It's better to be safe than sorry when it comes to publishing your own poetry, because it's difficult to judge your own work, and ... trust me on this, most poetry is not good.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:58 PM on November 14, 2009


In other words, his 900-page novels have great 350-page stories inside of them.

Not all of them. Which is part of the problem. His earlier work did have the quality that each book stood on its own, though his voice as a storyteller was obvious and always shone through, but usually not overbearing. A lot of his later work is a bit flimsy and lacks the intrinsic heart of the good yarn, the campfire tale, which is King's real talent.

The book which turned me was Tommyknockers, and when I read it I was still a huge fan. Fucking terrible. The plot was paper thin, and the characters were recycled. There was no good story inside that one, and even though it wasn't overly long, it was still too long. I realized King was a bit of a one-trick pony, and his stabs at more serious writing aren't nearly as good as when he's just telling you a scary story. At the time, he seemed to be moving on from that, so I did, too.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:18 PM on November 14, 2009


I was really, really surprised by the number of people who said they didn't like him, but either hadn't read him (what they were basing this on, I'm not sure), or hadn't read him since they were thirteen; they said that they hated him without really having concrete reasons for hating him.

Ah, I think we've hit something here. So maybe a large part of the vocal dislike is actually disavowal, arising from that cringe people feel when they look back on what they loved completely and uncritically when they were teenagers.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 5:40 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well PRB what you say isn't the case in my case because I still absolutely love King's early work; if you want a really discordant experience I recommend actually reading Carrie, the book that started it all. It's so different from even his other early work as to be startling, but that depth of imagery is there along with the ability to weave a story which he seems to have lost. I consider the early SK a major influence in the voice I adopt in my occasional online fictional scribbles.

I am probably a very atypical SK fan though in that I absolutley loved The Tommyknockers, despite the fact that it obviously needed some serious editing, because it was such a sheer incandescent condemnation of so much that we take for granted about the human condition. I did not realize until many years later, when he admitted it in (the BTW very excellent) On Writing, that he wrote it in the midst of a massive coke-and-booze binge and doesn't even remember writing it, but that may be why that sense of craziness shines from it so brilliantly.

The thing is that King writes very differently today, in a lot of ways of measuring, than he did 30 years ago. Part of that maybe getting old, part of it may be getting clean, and part of it is probably as I suspect that he never had much life outside of academia and writing and he's pretty much run that well dry. For someone with his RL resources he's demonstrated a breathtaking lack of imagination in his personal life. And that lack of imagination has been infesting his fiction for the last decade or so.

I suspect there are people who have an ear for the stuff he writes now; it obviously sells, and he's been doing it long enough since people like me stopped buying him automatically that it must work for someone, but there's a lot he did in the early days, things that brought many of us to his voice, that he doesn't seem able to do any more. If someone had given me Bag of Bones with the author's name marked out I might have appreciated it as a strong character study with a mild horror undertone but, approaching it as a Stephen King novel I am just like WTF. Let alone Buick 8. Let alone writing himself into the goddamn story in the Dark Tower. That was so cheesy P.T. Barnum probably got himself reincarnated just for the opportunity to laugh his ass off at it.

The Green Mile was a gimmick that worked. The Plant not so much, nor the poem at hand, for obviously different reasons. It's like he's just down to gimmicks and retelling his old stories or even just bits or side stories of his old stories in massive detail. And having an imagination myself, I really don't need him to do that for me.
posted by localroger at 6:19 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I used to rep for Stephen King around the time On Writing and Hearts in Atlantis were published, but I was so crushingly disappointed by the last three Dark Tower books that I haven't had the heart to try anything new since then. Not to mention that King went back to the first Dark Tower book, which was spare and striking and awesome, and changed it so it had more of the grating, sing-songy dialect that he used in the last three books (and in this poem, it looks like).
posted by brookedel at 8:57 PM on November 14, 2009


Powerful Religious Baby Isn't the more likely option that a lot of people simply don't like horror?

This shouldn't apply to the actual literati, who should know better, but would apply to a lot of the reading public (ie, us): people tend to conflate "I don't like it" with "it is bad". If horror makes you feel bad, eg frightened, horrified, disgusted even; it may be because it is doing its job well.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:16 PM on November 14, 2009


The problem with Dan Brown is there just isn't any argument.

Amen, brother.
posted by bwg at 1:39 AM on November 15, 2009


This shouldn't apply to the actual literati, who should know better, but would apply to a lot of the reading public (ie, us): people tend to conflate "I don't like it" with "it is bad". If horror makes you feel bad, eg frightened, horrified, disgusted even; it may be because it is doing its job well.

Well sure, but that's the thing about "genre" literature. If you respond to its triggers but you don't like the feeling, there's no compelling reason for you to read it. If you don't respond to its triggers at all, it just seems hilarious, or insane. That's true of sci-fi, horror, romance, mystery--all of them. Cats are solving crimes! Ladies are getting sexed by sheiks! We are like, living in space, you guys! A clown lives in the sewer and loves to eat baby nightmares! Or my own personal genre, poetry: I need to compare something to the moon right now! People are reductive about genre literature because if it doesn't work for you, then all you see is creaking machinery and none of the magic.

I think that's why these conversations devolve into "Stephen King is great! No Stephen King sucks!" It's like asparagus pee: some people have it, some people don't, and each group looks with sad pity on the other.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 7:35 AM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


People are reductive about genre literature because if it doesn't work for you, then all you see is creaking machinery and none of the magic.

I always find this attitude funny because so many who hold it seem to presuppose that everyone likes quiet realistic novels about, say, families. I don't know it "it's boring" is any better or worse of a reaction to a literary trope than "it's weird," but to me, it seems largely indistinguishable.

As for people rejecting King because they loved him in high school, uncritically disavowing things seems to me to be just as bad as uncritically embracing them. But what can you do?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:18 AM on November 15, 2009


That he is a "horror" writer is his misfortune, for horror is a genre held in fashionable disdain by the self-impressed literati.

Pff. He's read and liked by a lot more people for being Horror than he would be in some weak-sauce "literature" category.

When it comes to acceptance by the literary "mainstream" I think I'm with John Scalzi.
posted by Artw at 8:33 AM on November 15, 2009


So maybe a large part of the vocal dislike is actually disavowal, arising from that cringe people feel when they look back on what they loved completely and uncritically when they were teenagers.

I think that's spot-on, and actually probably explains the emotional reflex I have to overcome whenever pushing myself to evaluate some new bit of King's work rationally. It's still not high art very often, but dispassionate inspection doesn't support the "juvenile crap" reflex, either.
posted by rokusan at 8:35 AM on November 15, 2009


Ah, I think we've hit something here. So maybe a large part of the vocal dislike is actually disavowal...

You know, I first read that as disemvowel, and I was thinking "Yeah, I guess that's one way to cut down on the bulk."
posted by rokusan at 8:36 AM on November 15, 2009


>I haven't heard anyone talk that way about Bruce Springsteen since before I was born

That's quite a sense of hearing for a fetus.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:57 AM on November 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I always find this attitude funny because so many who hold it seem to presuppose that everyone likes quiet realistic novels about, say, families.

Hee. If the default in politics is an old white man, the default in literature is a realistic novel about a family. It is, by its very nature, presumed to be deserving. It got where it is because it was good, and the success of everything else is suspect.

The difference may lie in what kinds of machinery different people are willing to accept. There's a hunchback in a French church! An old guy tries to sled himself to death! Migrant workers are constantly breastfeeding each other! But at least there are no elves in my book, am I right?
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 9:25 AM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


the default in literature is...

There's no such thing as a "default" in literature unless you add qualifications. There ARE default literary values in scholarship and there are book-sale trends. Some of us bypass those defaults by not giving a shit about them.

What novels sell best? I don't care.

What novels are praised in academia? I don't care.

I'm not being self-centered for the sake of it. The truth is that I read a novel and it affects me in a way that I like or dislike. Academics and book-store owners have little to do with my reaction. And surely the main joy of reading is one's personal relationship to the story.

For me, there's no big difference between reading an Anne Tyler novel and reading a Neil Gaiman novel. Both are about people (or people-like characters) in some sort of imaginary setting. People can go on and on about genres all the want, and good for them if such discussions turn them on. But for me there are just stories that I react to.

Of course it's hard to talk about literature if we just mouth off about our subjective reactions, so when people have literary discussions, they tend to talk about everything except those. To me, that's like talking about the candy store and the wrapper but not about the taste of the candy itself. It misses the main point.
posted by grumblebee at 11:12 AM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I devoured all of King's work when I was in jr. high and high school. The Shining, The Stand, and IT (even with the horrible ending) are some high water marks for King, among other works.

He jumped the shark, however, years ago. About the time that he started taking the "write what you know" rule far too literally, and makes his protagonists either a 1) writer 2) of horror novels 3) suffering writer's block 4) living in Maine 5) all of the above. Additional plot is purely cosmetic.

I've been disappointed with virtually everything King has written since the 90s on, but a few years ago I gave him another chance by reading Cell. What a mistake. Actually it starts off well, but the second half of the book is so bad and stupid that the only explanation is he was planning it to be a big, Stand-like epic but changed his mind halfway through and just half-assed the second act.

One book that is probably his most experimental book is Lisey's Story, a more "literary" King, with a stream of consciousness style that is much less straightforward than most of his books. I don't think it's a horror novel at all, but I got bored about 1/4 of the way through and quit, so what do I know? Dumas Key is more plot-driven and starts out well, but gets mired down before the halfway point...it's in dire need of an editor.

All that said, I'll probably pick up Under The Dome, because it appears to be a return to his epic horror works, apparently replete with lots of bloody deaths. I guess I'll always give the guy a chance. *sigh*
posted by zardoz at 5:32 PM on November 15, 2009


I think it makes sense to give the guy who wrote the four stories in the anthology Different Seasons a chance. Consider these: "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption", "Apt Pupil", "The Body", "The Breathing Method". Three of these have been made into movies, two of which were actually good (The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me). "Apt Pupil" was an amazing story (albeit disturbing), but the film versions didn't capture it well. I enjoyed his early novels, and a few of the later ones. (I think Insomnia was pretty good.) I'll probably get Under the Dome pretty soon.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 6:06 PM on November 15, 2009


I am not a fan of King's writings, but for all of his faults (duly noted: his short stories are his best work, his later epics tend to suffer from bloat-ware, or so I've heard), in the end he is cursed with the writer's peculiar form of inspired genius: King is merely obsessed with story-telling, a talent which will not always pay off in a Nobel Prize, but which will always win a place around any camp-fire, from the dawn of man until the end of human narrative.
posted by ovvl at 8:16 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


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