Recent Work By Shya Scanlon

A: A Night Together!

Okay, there’s no real joke here. But there is a great event coming to NYC on April 6th, cosponsored by The Rumpus, Tin House Magazine, and Flavorpill. “A Night Together” features authors Sam Lipsyte, Colson Whitehead, and Lorelei Lee (yes, THAT Lorelei Lee),This American Life’s Starlee Kine and comedians Michael Showalter and Dave Hill. It will also have music by Jeffrey Lewis and Alina Simone.

The preorder price for tickets is ten bucks, but if you tweet, blog or post about the event to your Facebook page, you’ll get four dollars off. Now, I’m not great at maths, but I think that’s 6 dollars. Which–again, this is shaky–comes out to a dollar per featured person, not including the musicians. Rock solid, if you ask me.

So you should really think about doing that posting thing. And if you don’t live in NYC, you should post anyway, and like give your discounted ticket to someone you know in the city. Because shit, you totally owe them a favor. To get your discount, post a comment here, linking to your tweet/blog/etc.

Tonight there will a release reading for my book of prose poetry, In This Alone Impulse, at KGB Bar in NYC at 7pm. In celebration of its polyvocal soul, I’ve gathered a number of friends and fellow literarians to help me read from the book, including:

Lincoln Michel, James Yeh, John Madera, John Dermot Woods, Rozalia Jovanovic, Nicolle Elizabeth, Todd Zuniga, James J. Williams III, Terese Svoboda, Emma Straub, Sasha Graybosch, Nick Bredie, Nora Jean Lange, Joe Sullivan, Peter Schwartz, Timmy Waldron, and Brianna Colburn.

All outstanding writers in their own right, I really look forward to hearing how they give voice to these poems. The reading will also feature videos from people across the country, including BL Pawelek, Ryan W. Bradley, and AD Jameson. I’ve personally been recording videos for these poems for a while now, and I encourage you to watch one or two here. (Want to make one of your own? I’ll send you a copy of the manuscript and let you have at it!)

Here’s a link to the event listing. Please come, or suggest it to a local friend!

I’ve always been a slow reader. My mother, who took a speed reading course in college, always used to encourage me to take one of these courses, and of course I would protest, claiming that I liked to immerse myself in the language, take it slow, pay careful attention, etc. etc.

That’s all true, certainly, but I wonder if I wasn’t too hasty in my dismissal of a variety of techniques which, if artfully applied, might double or triple the number of books I’d be able to read. Because that would be a good thing, right? Some speed reading techniques I learned to apply pretty naturally, such as the elimination of subvocalization. Others, like the necessarily anti-musical chunking, I’ve shied away from.

Over at arts blog Big Other, they’re gathering together a reading group for Flann O’Brien’s great comic masterpiece At Swim-Two-Birds, to be consumed at an approachable-yet-respectable clip of 100 pages/week. See AD Jameson’s post about reading guides for the complex-ish modernist book. But don’t be scared! To fully enjoy O’Brien, you really needn’t be equipped with anything more than a good sense of humor and a love for language. I highly encourage people to read along, or at least check in from time to time to listen in during the ensuing book banter.

There are so many “famous last words” that the pressure is really up to have yours be something really good. You have no excuse, right? I mean, sure, not all of us will be lucky enough to go quietly into that good night, surrounded by loved ones, etc. etc. etc. But the chances are good enough that it just makes sense to start thinking about it now.

So I was thinking about it, and a nightmare scenario occurred to me. So there you are, surrounded by your family, about to meet your maker, and you sense that death is near, you’re sure of it, so you open up your mouth and summon with your last remaining breath those few words you’d been repeating since you were in your 20s, sure to make an impact. You say your piece. And then… And then nothing.

Turns out, you have, like, hours left. But you’ve already uttered what you obviously hope to be remembered by. Everyone is looking at you, and then looking at one another, and instead of the wailing, emotional catharsis that was supposed to follow your final heartbeat there’s a big, long, terrifyingly awkward silence. Just mortifying.

Anyway, what are the best last words you’ve heard?, which shares fiction, essays and poetry with more than 50,000 readers every month, is now offering book reviews

LOS ANGELES, Calif. (February 2010) – The Nervous Breakdown (TNB) has built a devoted following of over 50,000 unique readers per month since launching a brand new design with expanded content and functionality on November 15th, 2009.

Since then, the site has featured work and “self-interviews” by celebrated authors such as Stuart Dybek, Stephen Elliott, and Jami Attenberg, and by celebrities such as comedian Margaret Cho and radio personality Karith Foster.

Who knew that Bigelow’s win for best director last night was the first such win for a woman? This seems insane to me. And I suppose we shouldn’t make anything of the fact that she won for a film that, despite some murmurings early on about how she lent a “feminine touch” to the raw dealings of war was, let’s face it, a “boy movie.”

Not being a proper film buff, I can’t claim to know all the films and genres referred to in Tarantino’s most recent film “Inglorious Basterds”. But despite the enjoyment film buffs likely get from all the nods and allusions tucked within the film–a film even a dummy like me can see is about the power of film–I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t an element of self-sabotage going on here.

Like most people who use word processing applications, I’m by now perfectly used to seeing those colored squiggly lines appear below phrases or sentences deemed grammatically incorrect. And as a subset of this group no doubt also does, I typically ignore them. I know what I’m saying, after all, and I’m aware when it deviates from standard grammatical rules. But a recent discussion I had regarding the heap of narrative do’s and don’ts piled on students of composition, e.g. Show don’t tell, led me to wonder how useful it would be to have such prescriptive narrativity rules built into a word processor. Let’s call it Story Perfect.

Would you use Story Perfect to compose fiction? What if it could check your metaphors for alignment? What if it could help you ensure your protagonist’s language was “in character”? Or help you pick the appropriate moment for your climax? And would the result still be “your story?” Though it may seem intrusive to most writers, we do this on some level anyway: internalize rules we’ve learned and reproduce them on the page. Why not have a little reminder during the moments of inspiration?

1) I began David Schields’s much talked-about essay/manifesto Reality Hunger last night–a book which liberally uses unaccredited excerpts from a range of sources and compiles them into a kind of long list of inter-referential comments, anecdotes and arguments. On the first page of the appendix, Schields writes that he’d wanted to leave out all citations, but that:

“Random House lawyers determined that it was necessary for me to provide a complete list of citations; the list follows (except, of course, for any sources I couldn’t find or forgot along the way).

If you would like to restore the book to the form in which I intended it to be read, simply grab a sharp pair of scissors or a razor blade or box cutter [ed: is this an intentional nod toward terrorism?] and remove pages 210-218 by cutting along the dotted line.”

Indeed, Random House humored David, and included the dotted line near the spine of the pages in question.

I’ve written recently about the (potentially) unfortunate necessity of promoting yourself as an author these days. My own basic take on this situation is that the best way to promote yourself also happens not to be the kind of boorish and/or slimy stuff you think about when using the word “promotion.”

Rather, by taking a sincere interest in the community of writers/artists/whoever around you, by engaging with that community via participation in social forums, attendance at readings/events–essentially by speaking up and being a person–you can create a social context within which your own work has meaning. Really, it’s a stupidly simple attitude and perspective shift that can help you avoid despair, or at least some of it.

Anyway, someone who’s way ahead of the game with this kind of stuff is the author/filmmaker Michael Kimball. I recommend taking a look at his blog to see what kinds of projects he involves himself in and/or invents–it’s both inspiring and plain cool. One of the projects he’s gotten a lot of attention for (NPR interview included) is called The Life Story Project.

Tumor Rumors

By Shya Scanlon

The Feed

GQ ran a pretty damning article about the potentially harmful effects of cell phone usage, and how those effects–or rather, studies finding evidence of those effects–has been systematically covered up by the wireless communications industry, regulatory bodies under its influence, and by the government itself.

Over at Elegant Variation, Mark Sarvas speaks from his recent experience reading for first-novel contests, to point out all the things you should consider if you’re interested in avoiding the most common pitfalls of the debut novel.

The issues he cites, to be fair, do indeed seem to be problems common among novels in general–let alone first novels. But for my taste, too much of it seems indicative of a “golden mean” mentality that would seek to keep the writer more mindful of what he shouldn’t be doing, than what he should.

Killing, riding


This like we, likely, is this is, undo.  Take this out not far but take it widely, so it sits beside us.  It should serve as something undid, or else, dust.  I hurry to touch it.  I hurry to peel me up, and finger, and hurry to hand it over as something, something over more than, breaks from over what, from that broken smoothness. This sums us up.  This is that knuckle we said would carry things into a broad, clear brightness, and bend and watch them burn.



Killing, riding, II


We weren’t quite there yet but you knew to look behind us, and this seemed to matter.  What did you see?  Something pressed, is pressing, will not let comfort strip and enter us, bend us inward.  Still, I took you forward and a leaning overtook me.  Another kind of expectation.  You said put it down and I did, but within seconds I was not the same and you noticed, changed your mind, and entered something I did not recognize yet made a name for, and forgot.



What are your poems about?

Sex. Sex and money. The poems of In This Alone Impulse inhabit the interstitial space within the body politic, they’re little assassins paid to rape people in/out of their slumber.

Be honest.

Fine. These poems are about the chemistry of dependence and malaise. They are little language pills designed to work away at the Broca’s area of the brain, to assess and treat expressive aphasia.

So you’re a doctor.

Doctor Feelbad, at your service. Overcoming sex-pressive aphasia can be a nasty business. One of my patients, during convalescence, began to use language so bigly the hospital collapsed around her.

Bigly isn’t a word. I’m sorry to hear it. Is she okay?

The use is archaic. The hospital was just a cardboard box, fortunately. She didn’t have healthcare. Another victim never woke up, and it was beautiful. Her mouth opened around the most amazing sentence I’d ever heard, then closed forever.

Don’t you mean patient?

We tried to be, but in the bigly end we couldn’t wait. Had to operate. Truth will out.

So you know the truth when you see it, do you?

Who says I saw it? No, I only heard about this secondhand. At the time, I was in the counting house, counting all my money. This poetry business is a racket.

Business? I’m glad to hear you say that, because then you doubtless agree that the customer is always right.


And as the customer, I have a request.


And my request—as you’ve obviously expected from the outset—is that you explain your work so I don’t have to be responsible for my own interpretation.

You’re right, I’ve been unfair.

Well, you’re treating me like I’m some nincompoop who’s never heard of reader-response theory. I’m not your enemy, Shya. I’m a fan. I just want to ask you a couple of questions.

I understand.

See, now you’ve got me angry. I’m sorry, but I’m really sick of all you poets thinking you’re a league above your readers—sad little serfs with whom you must occasionally condescend to interact. It’s arrogant, insulting, and frankly, reeks not a little of fear and self-loathing. Are you a self-loathing poet?

Crushingly so. When will it end?

Maybe it will end when you drop all your dumb facades and try focusing on bridging the gap between yourself and the world, instead of willfully prying it open wider. That’s what you’re doing, right? You’re not “speaking” in any traditional sense, you’re just expressing. Cows can express. They can open their mouths and moo. And that’s great, mooing is nice.

Well I think you’re going a little far.

Do you? That’s nice. Let’s see… Oh, why go even farther than the first line? “This like we, likely, is this is, undo.” What distinguishes this from an intricate moo?

Well now you’re putting me in a position. What do you think?

I think it’s a simile struggling to emerge, or a group, a “we” trying to liken themselves to something, to gain perspective. But failing. Or having difficulty, at any rate. It seems to be saying that simile, even as it seeks to enrich understanding, breaks things apart, creates division. I liken something to something else, and in doing so formally separate these two things. But there’s a struggle! Proximity becomes a kind of poisoned commodity (This sums us up.), something sought but also the source of pain, or at least potential erasure. The poem seems to suggest or paint an attempt to self-define, to build identity in the face of some destructive force that’s paradoxically has its origins in the will-to-create. The end, then, is about compromise. What bends so it won’t break? What burns? I’m thinking a bridge. Maybe one with an ogre underneath it. Or a subconscious.

Oh come on. That’s a stretch.

Well what do you think?

I think you’re more familiar with interstices than you let on.

So how long have you been writing poetry?

Actually, I’ve been meaning to clarify. I don’t write poetry. I write fiction.