Issue 31of Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern is published as a beautiful hardback folio of the kind you’d find a library, which is quite appropriate given its theme: they’ve asked writers to produce new pieces using (relatively) lesser-known liteary forms. I’ve picked out a couple here that I like in particular.
‘Survivor’ by Douglas Coupland is a biji. A biji is a Chinese literary form conisisting of passages in various styles; as well as standard first-person narratives, Coupland’s includes geographical writing, recipes, and even a list of links to YouTube clips of people eating rather unpleasant things. Our protagonist is a washed-up television presenter who had a messy divorce and has ended up on a remote island fronting a new series of the reality gameshow Survivor. Then world events take a turn for the worse, and the game of survival ceases to be a game. I’m impressed with what Coupland does with the biji form, both the way he uses contemporary styles to tell a contemporary story whilst remaining true to the spirit of the form; and with his management of the story, as the situation and its effects gradually emerge from a collage of texts.
But my favourite pieces in the magazine are the shortest: a page of senryū, a Japanese verse form somewhat like haiku. Again, I’m impressed with the range of effects that the five poets who attempt this form achieve. Am I allowed to quote one in its entirety? I will do so, because I can’t exactly quote part of one; but I apologise if I shouldn’t be. This senryū is by Nicky Beer:
After ten years, I wrote him: “Now?”
He returned the word,
one letter gone.
Nicely done, I think. So are the other senryū, in their different ways.