Zachary Schomburg
April 30, 2010 9:28 AM   Subscribe

On the Monster Hour, there was this monster that used to come out and try to kill everyone in the audience. No one would expect it, not even the producers who were told by the monster he would play a few blues tunes on the piano.
Surrealism done right, by Zachary Schomburg. posted by Iridic (39 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
Hey, neat post. Zach is also one of the co-founders and editors of the excellent Octopus Magazine (link to the current issue) and Octopus Books.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 9:36 AM on April 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is the sort of thing that I like very, very much.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:39 AM on April 30, 2010

After seeing the term "Surrealism" thrown around randomly my whole life (while being entirely or partially devoted to the original Surrealist group's methods and philosophy), it is enlightening to see such an intelligent conversation about Surrealism and poetry. Thanks!

By the way, are there any old Surrealists around who still have a stack of Kayak magazines? There was some great poetry in there, and I was sad to see it fold (decades ago.)

And more likely, anyone out there familiar with Franklin (and Penelope) Rosemont's efforts to keep Surrealism alive in Chicago and elsewhere? He gave one of my Ernstian books a thumbs-up once. While vainly Googling myself, I found it on sale in a used bookstore in London for twenty pounds or so. (Signed by the author, undated!)

(Franklin Rosemont just died last year. I have heard mixed reactions from Chicogoans about the group.)
posted by kozad at 9:45 AM on April 30, 2010

I'm so glad they put that interview online--I posted about it a few weeks ago when I got my copy of Gulf Coast in the mail. Get your hands on the print issue if you can; it's full of amazing work.

Some poems by Heather Christle in Octopus. Some poems by Heather Christle in GlitterPony.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 9:59 AM on April 30, 2010

Russell Edson, people.
posted by oonh at 10:05 AM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just became the world's biggest Zachary Schomburg fan. Thank you.
posted by rusty at 10:06 AM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

For some reason i thought the monster hour was like a movie show or a children's show and that the monster was a guy in a suit. Why did the audience keep coming back?
posted by djduckie at 10:07 AM on April 30, 2010

I had read "Scary, No Scary" once before and then forgotten it. Thank you for correcting that lapse. Schomburg is the saviour of poetry and microfiction.
posted by 256 at 10:09 AM on April 30, 2010

these are brilliant. thankyou.
posted by peterkins at 10:14 AM on April 30, 2010

Bollocks, he was in Cleveland a few days ago.
posted by sciurus at 10:48 AM on April 30, 2010

Thanks very much. I just purchased one of his books. Your post just improved my life.
posted by Erroneous at 10:57 AM on April 30, 2010

Serving dinner used to be so easy. A fork, spoon, and knife arranged just so around a simple plate awaiting the roast or other such dead thing. But as the years progress it becomes steadily more difficult. Dinner used to be such a kind master, with an annual bonus slipped under the door of my chamber on the eve of the equinox. Now dinner demands too much of me. And my sash, bought new those many years ago, is ragged and ill-fitting. I'm allowed a mask for the days when serving feels like a damp slap, but it doesn't look like me and I become a stranger in it, relying on chalk traced footsteps to instruct me to the pantry. Dinner has a creaking harpsichord in a sunlit corner of the parlor and plays from sheet music recommended by well-bellied despots. I am expected to dance to this, though my legs were auctioned at a charitable ball thrown by one such despot some years before I was delivered into service.

Ehn, it's not so hard.
posted by barrett caulk at 11:11 AM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Actually, it is so hard and I loved this guy's writing. Never heard of him before and now I have an adventure to look forward to. Great post.
posted by barrett caulk at 11:12 AM on April 30, 2010

You dreamed you were a Tibetan prayer flag, and everyone believed that the prayer written on you was sent up to heaven each time you fluttered. But what really happened was that you slowly frayed in the incessant wind, and your threads blew away one by one and landed on distant boulders and were taken by small birds for their nests and were pulled underground by mice and some just disintegrated in the sharp high-altitude sunlight. Eventually your prayer faded away, bleached and illegible, and you faded away one thread at a time, until in the end you became a part of the world all around, which is what you already were, and nothing got sent anywhere.

Ehn, it's not so hard.
posted by rusty at 11:32 AM on April 30, 2010

rusty, the kennings just aren't there yet.
posted by Mister_A at 11:38 AM on April 30, 2010

I love Brautigan, and have never quite again found writing with that distinct blend of a love for seems-casual-but-it's-really-not weirdness and an iron grip of the tiny details of everyday life. From what I'm reading, Schomburg may well scratch that exact itch. Thanks so much.
posted by Shepherd at 11:39 AM on April 30, 2010

It's inspired by the tone and approach, but yeah, it is so hard and I love Schomburg's little micro-stories to death.
posted by rusty at 11:58 AM on April 30, 2010

Yep, he really makes every word count, doesn't he?
posted by Mister_A at 12:01 PM on April 30, 2010

Beautiful, challenging, fresh--this writing is like the bright edge of a knife. Thank you for this, Iridic. I look forward to spending part of my weekend with Mr. Schomburg.
posted by kinnakeet at 12:13 PM on April 30, 2010

Ehn, it's not so hard.

Then why do my eyes glaze over when I read faux-surrealism?
posted by kozad at 12:23 PM on April 30, 2010

As it turns out, it is pretty hard. I was a graduate student at the University of Nebraska at the same time as Zach, and we had some workshops together, so I had the pleasure of reading drafts of his work. A few of the poems linked above went through quite a few rewrites before they got to their current forms. On the other hand, he's also one of those annoying writers who sometimes just gets everything to work perfectly on the first draft (lucky bastard).
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 12:42 PM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I like this. He sort of reminds me a little of Daniel Kharms.
posted by magnificent frigatebird at 12:47 PM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

A few of the poems linked above went through quite a few rewrites before they got to their current forms.

Now I'm having workshopping flashbacks, Hypocrite_Lecteur.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:49 PM on April 30, 2010

Now I'm having workshopping flashbacks

Hide under a blanket for a while. It will get better.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 1:00 PM on April 30, 2010

I loved workshopping!
posted by sciurus at 1:02 PM on April 30, 2010

Well, I liked it too sometimes. Those aren't the times I have flashbacks about.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 1:04 PM on April 30, 2010

I am remembering a particular classmate who turned in, for workshopping, a thinly-veiled bit of confessional autobiography, which she claimed was fiction, and which detailed her feelings of isolation, loneliness, and self-loathing, all in incredibly bad prose. Everyone in the class knew it wasn't fiction. Everyone in the class knew it was poorly written. No one in the class criticized it.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:07 PM on April 30, 2010

See, that right there is a good reason not to workshop with people you haven't already got good and drunk with.
posted by Mister_A at 1:12 PM on April 30, 2010

See, that right there is a good reason not to workshop with people you haven't already got good and drunk with.

It's one of the many perils of a dry campus.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 1:17 PM on April 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, to the people who had never encountered Schomburg before, if you like his work, you might also like Lara Glenum, Sabrina Orah Mark, Aase Berg, and Mathias Svalina. Frequent litmags like ACTION YES and Octopus Magazine. Check out the recent Gurlesque anthology. Pay attention to Wave Books.

Here are Zachary Schomburg and Mathias Svalina translating each other's work.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 1:18 PM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

And yes, for slightly more mainstream suggestions, definitely Daniil Kharms, Etgar Keret, Matthea Harvey, and Kelly Link.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 1:27 PM on April 30, 2010

I would book that monster on my show, I like the cut of its jib.
posted by Mister_A at 1:48 PM on April 30, 2010

I was on the prose board of my school's lit magazine (2000 students at the school, the talent pool was neither wide, nor all that deep, aside from a couple stunning talents) and I remember absolutely ripping apart a piece that was plainly written by someone who had no concept of the voice they were trying to use. No understanding of what life for that particularly character would actually be like (an unrelated case, but imagine rich high school kids trying to write first person stories about what life as a homeless person would be like for composition class). I ripped it apart, and it was tossed on the discard pile. What I failed to notice was the look of absolute horror on the prose editor's face. The board selected stories blind, but the editor knew who wrote what.

Naturally, the story was by my girlfriend.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:50 PM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Could someone explain the appeal? I read all the links in this post and felt that they all read like someone puked nonsensical literary run-ons all over the screen. Just when it felt like some meaning was coming out, they would spiral back into nonsense. I can see that they have a good grasp of English adjectives and interesting imagery, but there's got to be more to it than that, right?
posted by aesacus at 7:33 PM on April 30, 2010

aesacus, of course different things appeal to different people, usually for different reasons. For me, taking, for example, the Monster Hour story, it's just an awesome image, presented well, that is just the right length. I don't imagine you could remove a single word from the story without damaging it in some way, and I don't think you could add to it without taking some of the wonder away from it. The craft inherent in refining what you've written to that point is a stunning amount of work and thought. If you don't manage to nail it the first time you write it down, it could take weeks, even months, to perfect a story like that.

And, for what they are, they are great images and ideas that linger, that dig in to your mind. The Monster Hour will probably stick in my head for at least the next year, maybe ten, and I'm probably going to smile every time I think about it, first wishing that such a thing had actually existed, then feeling a bit wistful that it doesn't. Then I'll scowl a bit, jealous that such a small thing can still cause reactions like that in me, fully aware that it's something I can't do (I know enough about my writing skill to know that I'm not going to be able to put something like that together).
posted by Ghidorah at 8:58 PM on April 30, 2010

Just when it felt like some meaning was coming out, they would spiral back into nonsense.

It's exactly that feeling of being on the brink between sense and nonsense that I find exhilarating. It's what I like about these poems even more than their imagery and spare language. Nonsense is the fuel for these poems. It's what makes them funny and sometimes moving and (above all) never quite what you expect. That's the appeal.

Your general tone ("puked nonsensical literary run-ons") suggests that you have some assumptions about what literature is supposed to be: namely, that it's supposed to make sense and have "meaning" and conform to certain standards of grammatical correctness. These poems aren't getting along well with your assumptions. And that's okay; we all have assumptions of one sort or another. But in the interest of trying to enjoy as many things as you can, it's sometimes a good idea to try on a different set of assumptions for a while.

You should also maybe be aware that there's a whole literary history that sets a precedent for this work, so Schomburg is not the only one whose assumptions are different from yours. In particular, the French surrealist movement and the Russian absurdists are a big influence here. Not that you need to know about those things in order to enjoy the poems, but if you're the sort of person who likes to have some context, reading about those two movements might help.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 10:05 PM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

The lighthouse keeper had been puking nonsensical literary run-ons all night and his wife was worried. She brought him carrot soup, up the long stairs to the top of the lighthouse. How are you feeling she asked. OK. He would answer. Are you sure? She replied. Yes, ever since the eagle beat me at gin rummy burying itself in the wastebasket and emerging golden straight flush pajama costumes, I've been just fine except my nostrils are filled with light and I can't shut it off. Should I call the captain she wondered. He's already here said the lighthouse keeper. Hello Madam said the captain, furiously bailing out the foredeck, you'd better fetch more soup I think it's catching and that eagle is a dirty cheater.

Ehn, it's not so potato.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:40 AM on May 1, 2010

An honest Monster: Sing beast sing [YouTube]
posted by 0rison at 11:11 AM on May 1, 2010

Potomac Avenue and Gidorah,
I think I'm seeing what you guys are saying. I definitely have that a priori assumption you're talking about. Some context would be helpful for me. I'll have to do some research. I do find Schromburg's stuff the most compelling of the bunch. Many of the other authors' pieces listed on the Octopus Magazine site just strike me as being so... silly.
posted by aesacus at 9:04 PM on May 1, 2010

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