Some time in the late 1960s, in a period beginning in late high school and extending into my early college years, I wrote an experimental novel titled WRAETHROM that has remained hidden in my closet since about 1969. That approximate date was the first and last time — to my recollection — that I submitted the book to an editor. The editor was Dick Higgins and the publisher was Something Else Press. Higgins didn’t just reject the novel, he wrote me a scathing two page letter of rejection, informing me that I had no literary talent and advising that I abandon my writing and go into premed. I wish I had kept his letter. It would be endlessly amusing now. But at the time I was deeply offended and threw it away. At least I think I did. I haven’t seen it since.
I sent the manuscript to Higgins because he was in charge of Something Else Press, which published an anthology I greatly admired called An Anthology Of Concrete Poetry, edited by Emmett Williams. My experimental novel had some concrete poetry in it, as well as more conventional experimental prose poetry and traditional fictional prose. I thought maybe they would see some value in the book, especially the way I used the concrete method to expand upon and make visual the content in the prose poetry and the straight narrative. But they didn’t see that. What they saw (if they looked at it much at all) was 244 pages of crazy bullshit written by a no-name college kid. Hell, I didn’t even live in New York or San Francisco or any other important city. Can you blame them?
Of course, I should have submitted the book to other publishers. Or, I should have published it myself in a small press edition. But I didn’t. I put it away and forgot about it for decades. Why? Because I was busy with a family, a job, a house, a car, a dog. And, I was busy writing other books.
If this scenario sounds familiar, its because I did the same thing with another novel: Death At The Flea Circus. It, too, was a youthful experiment that I submitted to publishers (two or three) early on; it, too, was rejected, and I gave up and put in in the closet. Death At The Flea Circus was written circa 1968 to 1972 and finally saw print in 2011 after I sent it to my publisher, Bottle of Smoke Press. Wraethrom is the novel I wrote immediately before Death At The Flea Circus, and strangely, it is more experimental, and more bizarre than the later book. You would think I would become more bold in my literary experiments as time went on, but I grew more conventional with each rejection.
As best I can tell, Wraethrom was written from 1966 to 1969. I have a feeling there were three bursts of composition: the first, about 1966, was the traditional narrative, in past tense third person. The second phase of composition was what I call the psychedelic prose poetry, written about 1966 to 1967. The third phase of composition was the concrete poetry section, written circa 1967 or 1968. I may have pulled it all together in a final draft in 1968 or 1969. I don’t seem to have any rough or early drafts of this book, except for a few poems that also appear in a notebook I kept. Why this is, I don’t know. Maybe I destroyed drafts as I revised material. What I do have is a typed manuscript of 244 pages that is finished and complete.
What is new is that I recently started scanning the book and sending pages to Bill Roberts at Bottle of Smoke Press. There’s no certainty he’ll like it or publish it, but just by digitizing the book, the cat is out of the bag and the book has gone out into the world. I’m going to post a few clips from the scanned typescript in future posts, just for the hell of it.
(To be continued).