iambikast #1: Gordon Lish in Conversation with John Oakes

Iambikast #1a (mp3)
Iambikast #1b (mp3)

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).

Gordon Lish reading Collected Fictions

Gordon Lish reading Collected Fictions

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.

Miette’s Description

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.

Gordon Lish and John Oakes

Gordon Lish and John Oakes

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.

5 thoughts on “iambikast #1: Gordon Lish in Conversation with John Oakes

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  3. There’s nothing to be gained by engaging with one’s slander (“do you still beat your wife?” etc.) but I want to clarify a few matters of fact. What’s missing from Lish’s account is our two years of friendship between the time he learned I was an associate of Tao Lin’s and the time he decided I was out of his club. He read my work in manuscript, and helped me get two of my stories published. I studied his work (editorial and original) at some length, and gave a lecture on him at The New School. But the lesson should be (and is) clear enough: Like Satan in Heaven, once you’re out, you’re out. So be it, and anyway there’s decent company here on the bad-kids’ list: Diane Williams, Michael Kimball, Raymond Carver, Deb Olin Unferth, Ben Marcus, Walter Kirn, David Leavitt. Etc., etc.

    The interviewer, John Oakes, was my first publisher. John put out my anthology “The Apocalypse Reader” in 2007; which is how I met Lish in the first place–I gave Lish a copy and he liked it enough that he wrote me a postcard (which I still have) then had me over to his home, which is how our friendship began. (If you’re wondering, I was never his student.) The actual story of how said friendship unwound is a pretty interesting one, but I have not come here to tell stories out of school. Lish is entitled to his opinions of me, all of them–in whatever order they occur to him and for however long he chooses to keep them. But that stuff about trying to remember my name was just so much play-acting. Those theatrics notwithstanding, you may rest assured that he knows my name just as well as I know his.

  4. Pingback: Gordon Lish on Beckett’s Boils and Other Matters of Literary Import | biblioklept

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