Thursday, June 18, 2009

LC contest winner: Bobby Alter's 'A cardiovasc' + Interview

I have posted the winner of the This is not not a Contest, Bobby Alter's 'A cardiovasc' live now at

Chosen from more than 200 entries, I think this piece is at once new, innovative, fun, smart, funny, and at its heart, made of sentences that I am pleased to know exist.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Thoughts and words as comments please are welcome here, as is any spreading of the word. Thankses.

AUTHOR BIO: Bobby Alter is a nineteen-year-old undergraduate in Portland, OR, where he primarily studies linguistics and French literature. He has newly founded a blog, the Hungerjournal where he will keep updates on his writing and further adventures in blissful poverty.

After you read that, here is a brief interview about the creation of the text, the author's thoughts on writing, etc.


How long did it take you to create this text?

BA: That's actually an interesting question in regards to this piece... I tend to be incredibly meticulous when it comes to writing, spending as much as two or three hours on a single paragraph, only to scrap it and try again... but this one I hammered out very quickly in comparison, I think I pumped out the entire first draft in three hours. But, that was greatly helped by the fact that the character of Roland was pretty much already created, sort of a personal archetype for me I think, and I had randomly written an early version of the middle bit with the mother a few months ago. Also, the situation of the last scene with Roland and the liver baby is an idea I've put into writing I think a million times, this being the newest (and shortest) incarnation of the idea. I don't know, point being, it didn't take me very long as far as I'm concerned, but the truth is due to all those factors it was really the first time I've worked on a text that "wrote itself," which I guess is a thing that writers say.

Tell me please about the photo insertions and how they came to be part of and / or influence the text before or after its creation.

BA: Adding photos is new to me, I've never done that before, but when I saw you mentioned it was alright I thought I'd try something new. The first is of course a wedding. I think that the idea of family and marriage and all that was an important theme to the text, you'll notice that it involves husband and wife in two generations, also mother and daughter and mother and son and mother and son in law father and daughter and also sort of anti-family types like prostitutes and drug addicts and whatever. The point wasn't to designate the photo as faces to any of the names in the story but I suppose it's fine if anyone decides that. I guess more important is that nobody is happy in that photo. I like the idea of putting pictures and text together because sometimes text is maybe too interpretable to give a specific feel (not that that's a bad thing) so by putting a photo of a photo of unhappy people at a marriage I feel like I was giving at most a feeling and at least a color palette for the text. Second photo is similar. That last section begins in the middle of the sentence and so maybe the image is the first half of that sentence. I love the color and most of all the compression of the image, I actually have a niceish camera and went out of my way to make that a crappy picture. I don't know, maybe the backstory of all that process was just for me, just for directing me as I wrote and felt and did all the things I tried to do. I might ask, what was your reaction to the photos?

Insertion of other media into text can often be a quick, Hmm, what is this trying to hide, so I guess maybe up front I'm always at least a little leery of them at first. In this case, though, they really seemed to have an aura, and weren't just something stuck there but opened the piece in other angles that broke off from the text and enhanced it, which made me feel happy. Also, when I went back and read your note that the photos were of objects that had been given to you by your grandmother when she thought the Communists were poisoning the water I thought was interesting and cool.

I'm wondering, then, about the way the shape of the text came together as you were writing it, as it seems there are many strands here, some very languagey, like the opening, and some more narrative sounding, but still magical, and sometimes it even breaks into (and eventually ends in) lineated phrases. Were the shifting forms something you were conscious of during the writing or did they just happen? Would you say the ideas affected the sentences here or the sentences affected the ideas?

BA: Ah, see? I should have just left it to the professional to articulate for me in the first place.

Okay, these are hard questions, I don't think I've actually thought about anything like this before, but after some serious forehead-wrinkling introspection, here's what I have to say. I like that you used the word magical, I think that's the single most important aspect to my writing to me. Here's a quick disclaimer: if anything I'm about to say sounds in any way pretentious, my deepest apologies; though I like T.S. Eliot as much as the next guy (okay, with the exception of Nabokov who was the first to realize that the anagram of his name is "toilets"), the idea that writing should be associated with some sort of smoking-jacket-wearing, intellectually-driven hogwash is pretty shitty to me. That said, I'm going to list a few ideas I have about language. My understanding of how language basically works in terms of speech is this: the mind creates concepts, puts them into a grammar, and then assigns the grammar to a set of phonetic units which are then interpreted by a third party semantically. While this is the working model for speech that you'll learn in syntax 101 or whathaveyou, I do think it applies to the way that many "description-based" writers do their thing, like Hemingway, Camus, etc. I write very differently. First I have the idea of what I want to say, but in a very broad sense, not sentence-by-sentence as in speech. Then, I attempt to articulate everything at the same time; syntax, phonetics, and semantic meaning must be created simultaneously for me because they all relate. Syntax is rules like Subject Verb Object etc. but those are completely meaningless without a carefully picked series of words, which are equally useless without a cohesive order, all of which are serving to create a semantic meaning. I think the trick that I try to pull off is, when I create them all simultaneously, I can break as many "rules" as I want, use any sounds I want, and get closest to the exact meaning I want to convey. When we speak, we are in a way narrowing down our notions, which is terrible, i.e., here is a big feeling I have, with some of it chipped off so as to be contained within a grammar, then regulated by phonetic conventions, etc. To anyone with the theory that man will create robots that will then take over the world by expanding their own artificial intelligence: as far as I'm concerned, that's already happened in terms of language. Man created language, which then became its own "organic" matter, and now we are trapped by the conventions it creates. My writing seeks to break apart those conventions, not because I am a Joyce-type writer (who, after writing both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake declared the amount of time it would take to fully understand the texts in terms of hundreds of years) but simply because I, like every writer and every person even, what to express exactly what I feel the need to express.

Could you tell me more about your background as a reader and or maker of words? What got you into it, how often you write, your routines, what authors really bang you, etc? You can be as veiled or as open as you like in response to this.

BA: Well, I mentioned Hemingway, Camus, Nabokov and Joyce above and they are probably my biggest influences. I think the first writer to ever make my mind explode was Hemingway. I was young when I first read him, so I likely didn't "get" a lot, but what mattered to me was how he relayed sentiment to his audience in a way I couldn't imagine before. Nabokov and Joyce are important to me in the way that the narration inhabits the psychoses of the characters. Camus is one of many absurdist writers, includingbutnotlimitedto Kafka, Kharms, Artaud, Beckett etc., all of whom I adore in terms of their ideology, which I feel is very close to mine, in the sense that life is a necessary series of revolts against an unidentifiable absurd, against which our greatest tools are beautiful things and childlike things and other things and also of course language. I'll also add Cummings and Rimbaud, two poets who have had probably the greatest influence on the actual stylistic aspect of my writing, both in poetry and prose.
Those are my influences. For reasons as to why, how, etc., I have absolutely no answer. I'll mention though that one prize for winning this contest was publication on Writer's Bloc, where you'll find a prose-poem attempting to answer those questions.

Ahhhh shit I'm trying to keep these answers as short as possible but they're just such grand questions!

Doubled q meant for crudding: What are you working on these days and what was the last thing that you read online that burped your brain?

BA: I don't know, I'm sort of not working on anything these days, it's hard for me to get motivated. But now that I have this story out there with so many people looking at it and everything I figure I should brave out into the world of online journals and try to get stuff published and all that. Ideally though I also want to work on a longer work, because writing short stories is painful for me I think and also because I hate ending things. I have an idea for a sort of novella I want to work on, for which I'm pretty sure 'A cardiovasc' was sort of a preliminary exercise... something about a world where all mothers are catholics and all daughters are either beautiful angelic beings or drug-addicts and whores or both and all men are semi-well-dressed sexually-driven chainsmoking proletariat semi-poets and all children are sacred and all of the characters have goals but at the same time have no control over their actions is extremely appealing to me, I don't know. Like I say the act of sitting down to write, and furthermore liking what I turn out with, is terribly excruciating for me on all levels, so it's hard to predict anything specific, even though when I do write it is the most wonderful feeling.

This poem [] caused some considerable brain burpage. The poem is called 'Skips' and the poem skips and I somehow feel like it's perfect or some silly adjective like that. I'm really bad at explaining what it is I like about things I read, but what I loved primarily was the way my mind reacted to this, it was to me a sort of battle of expression, like the poet was trying to say something, and the language was trying to say something, and both were being subverted, or maybe it was that the poet was restricting the poem, which actually I would like even better, it would go back to what I was talking about earlier on the subject of language's autonomous power and the need to break that. The important part is that while the narrative part of the piece is disjointed there is a very clear feeling expressed by it, a good one, one to think about.


shome dasgupta said...

Great interview--thanks for posting this, Blake.


hi SD, ty i am glad you liked it

Ken Baumann said...

Considerable thoughts. yessss

Bobby I like the way your brain works.

gustavo.rivera said...

i liked the interview a lot. mr. alter gas a good understanding of language. i wish i was that clear on it when i was nineteen.

w3ft said...

thought this story was alright, pretty good in places but pretty overdone in others

even though the dude mentions a lot of european authors in this interview it feels very american to me, this story. reminds me of barry hannah's ray or even william gass

thought some stuff in the interview was pretty controversial, particularly the smoking jacket line, but that's ok.

overall it's there, he did it, it's a story.

Bobby Alter said...

hey w3ft, thank you for reading my piece and giving your input I seriously appreciate it.

I was inspired by your critique to such an amazing extent, I never knew that I have to have the same writing style as my inspirations, also sorry for being controversial. okay sorry about being cheeky. but like I said I really appreciated the comment, i like being called American, but then I thought, What if it were not, so much so that I have right now decided to write a bonus story just for you, it's a "European" version of my story "A cardiovasc":
Smoke fills the musty café. Somewhere, a movie is being filmed. Action. Roland sips an espresso. "Ah, childhood!" he thinks, and thinks of the Province of his sinful youth. "Why are we here on the damned earth!" he exclaims, and randomly sleeps with a leggy American. "Do you think my legs are beautiful?" She asks. "Do you think my ass is beautiful? Do you think my hands are beautiful? Do you think my breasts are beautiful?" Everything turns red. Roland runs to the sea followed by a sweeping orchestra. "I will never know," he whispers at the shore, staring off into the endless Mediterranean mists, plain-faced in contemplation.

The End.



bobby is kicking ass

w3ft said...


Reynard said...

sweet jesus!

it's like sam beckett, anselm hollo, hart crane, thomas pynchon, and david ohle had a sweet sweet love child, bought him his first hooker, then gave him some lsd and forced him to write a short story while salò or the 120 days of sodom plays in the background

the lines following 'read a book' and the corresponding feeling were particularly great

wondering though, did you not capitalize 'freud' on purpose?

Ken Baumann said...

bobby's on fire


i like that mash up reynard, nice

Darby said...

cardiovasc is awesome. holy shit.

gustavo.rivera said...


Michael Hessel-Mial said...

This is a good story but it needed more dirigibles.