Our inaugural iambikast comes from a rather extraordinary event. iambik undertook creation of an audiobook of the Collected Fictions from the legendary editor, Gordon Lish. OR Books publisher John Oakes suggested that Mr. Lish read some selections himself, which sounded to us a good idea. In fact, it was better than a good idea: Lish has never, ever publicly performed a reading of his own work. It was an historic idea (and you can hear Lish’s selected readings here, and buy the entire Collected Fictions here, with all stories read by Gregg Margarite).
So, two intrepid iambikers, Miette and I, set off to meet with Mr. Lish and Mr. Oakes for a reading, which was to be held in John Oakes’ apartment in New York. I admit, I was nervous, but the charming Lish regaled us with stories of his early job as a late-night DJ, and teaching Craig Venter. Son after, we gathered together in John’s children’s playroom – the closest to sound-proof studio we could find — and set up our gear. Lish, arranged comfortably, somehow, on a kid’s chair, with a map of the world, set to reading with an attention to detail that only a demanding editor could have. He delighted us with language play at haute voix. You really should listen.
Before the reading ended, I had to catch a plane. BUt before I left, I asked Miette if she could record John and Gordon for ten minutes or so, talking about literature, once the reading was done. The result is more than an hour of conversation that makes up iambikcast#1.
Before arriving to record Gordon Lish’s narration of selections from Collected Fictions, I (like too many people) knew more about the American fiction writers Lish helped cultivate than the American fiction he himself had committed to the page.
I’d briefed myself on the material just beforehand, an experience which quickly devolved into kid-in-candy-store delight with what I’d discovered: fully charged pieces, short and raw and sparse and endlessly interpretable. If you’ve listened to the Iambik selections that Lish read himself, and those read by Iambik narrator Gregg Margarite, you’ll have some idea of this diversity: the sentences ply their own orbit and speak for themselves, whether spoken with the unrestrained volatility of the author, or from behind the subdued undertones of Gregg’s narration.
If you haven’t yet listened, Lish read with enough force to shake the city, and read more than twice the volume he’d originally agreed on, to the pleasure of us all. He continued reading selections until he literally could no longer read the words on the page, at which point we invited OR Books publisher John Oakes into the room for a conversation. Given the impromptu nature of the chat, I didn’t quite have the recording equipment to capture multiple voices, so it’s a little noisy, a little haphazard, and a little desultory, as any good conversation demands. I’d be a hoarder not to share the result.
In the first part of the conversation, Lish covers Beckett’s boils and other afflictions of our literary heroes, remembrances of Neal Cassady, and the writer as witch doctor.
The second part focuses on Lish’s (as always, uncensored) assertions on the state of contemporary American letters, in which we’re imparted with opinions on Allen Ginsberg and Philip Roth, achieving religious experience through DeLillo, the finer points of book blurbing, and encouraging the further crimes of Tao Lin.
The Iambik recording of Gordon Lish’s Collected Fictions can be purchased here.
Oh and you can see more photos of the reading here.