Twenty-Four Hours, publisher
Edited by Josh Medsker
The Anonymous Chapbook Project is brilliantly put together by a group of talented artists and writers who generously decided to share their masterpieces with the outside world, all while remaining humbly anonymous. The man behind the entire project, Josh Medsker, has proven to society that there are those out there who prefer the spread of creative collaboration over publishing politics such as author copyright and praise.
Anonymous Chapbook #1 - You are my Anti-Spam Hero
This part showcases the shenanigans of online existence - the hilarity as well as the weirdness that comes with it. Explore your junk mailbox and shake your head or laugh at the messages received. Either way, you’re bound to receive something that will cause wonder about the mysterious world of the Internet.
Anonymous Chapbook #2 - The Use of Travel
This part explores pieces about travel - experiencing both excitement over visiting a new place and nostalgia over leaving the old, comfortable place behind - all while loneliness boils inside.
“Dearest, I have been in the Philippines these last few weeks - Manila mostly. It’s been desperately gray here, and I miss that California sun…” — A Postcard from the Philippines
Anonymous Chapbook #3 - The Time-Travelers Ass and Other Moderately Alaskan Situations
This part focuses on the now and the future, all rounded up with clever short stories literally depicting, Alaskan situations.
“Soon, we will all be swimming in the embrace of fireweed wine, laughing at the way the moon waxes because we will also be tripping balls on mushrooms.” —Sourdough Outro
Click on this link if you'd like to check out these pieces for yourself:
Check out Josh Medsker's interview with Boston Literary Magazine below:
Welcome, Josh! I want to tell people how we met… you graciously offered to review some chaps for us. I am normally a control freak who has to be in charge of everything, but I agreed, and was so grateful to you—those chaps had been sitting on my desk for about four months. So thanks again for that!
Oh of course! Any opportunity to write is great. I love reading new people, and I love helping out small press folks. I had the chance to interview Karen Lillis, about her pop-up bookshop in Pittsburgh, for the Twenty-Four Hours blog, and it was nice to finally read her work! It was so funny and poignant. And reading Carol Alexander is just an amazing experience. I love poetry that I can chew on for a while. So dense and so good.
Yes, both very good writers! Okay, let's begin by asking, What do you want our readers to know about you?
Hmm, that's a tough question. I really want my work to speak for itself. Anything I reveal about myself can be done better through the work, I think. Also, my second toes are longer than my big toes, I have a white spot of hair on the back of my head, and I was born and raised in Alaska.
When did you move out of Alaska, and was it to New York, and was that a huge adjustment for you?
Alright, since we are talking, here's the long-ish version. You ready? Hahaha! I moved out of Alaska the first time in the summer of 1998, when I was 25. I hopped on a Greyhound bus in Seattle, and rode around on the United States on the bus for what ended up being about 6 months. I didn't know how long it was going to be when I left, or even if I was going to come back. I had loose plans to stay with friends along the way, all up and down the West Coast, through the South, up the East Coast…. It was incredible, seeing the country essentially for the first time, living on no money, sleeping in hostels in cities where I didn't have friends—making new friends there… sleeping on park benches and laundromats when I had to…
I lived between San Francisco and Anchorage for 1999 and 2000 (with another ridiculously long road adventure, this time with my partner in crime, Eric)—and then moved to Japan on Christmas Day 2000, to teach English—again with Eric.
I came back from Japan in 2002 and moved to Austin, because I wanted to soak up the vibes Willie Nelson was sending out. For about 3 years I did that, working at Barnes and Noble, writing all the while… Met my wife at the bookstore, and moved to Brooklyn in 2004. And we've been in New York, well New Jersey now, ever since. Whew! I told you it was convoluted.
You asked if it was difficult to adjust… it was. When I moved—for real—to San Francisco in 1999, it was really difficult. The culture was totally different, and even though I loved it, it was very hard to relate to Californians sometimes. I actually had a fellow Alaskan with me at the Pearl Paint store, which was great.
Okay, let's talk about this Anonymous project you've been doing… I'm going to let you explain it. Where did the idea come from?
The idea for the chapbooks sprang from all of these ideas rolling around in my head… mixed with my fascination with, and appreciation of, the hacktivist group Anonymous. They have a saying, which is essentially—"Anonymity creates a space where people are free to speak the truth". That was such a powerful idea to me, and it sparked something. I thought that if the writing was anonymous, people would have more freedom—being released from the prison of their identity. I'm being a little hyperbolic, but not a lot. A little sense of identity can be a great thing, but too much of it can end up being a straitjacket.
Well, this was what fascinated me most—that you were able to find people who were willing to give up their ego… in other words, simply not take credit for their work. That just wasn't an issue for them?
That is one of the things I am the most proud of with this. It has a built-in ego killer. None of the authors of the chapbooks had any problems with the anonymity whatsoever. That made me so happy.
For a personal example, I only wrote about Alaska for years. My subject was Alaska, my setting was Alaska… and it was wonderful. It fed me for a long time.
I am also pretty disgusted by the cult of celebrity that reality TV has created, so I wanted to promote the idea of anonymity as a cultural force. The idea that people can band together and create something, and not claim any credit for it—that's very powerful.
Yes, very! While I was reading it, I kept asking myself if I would be willing to let something go like that… not claim ownership… the dynamics are really interesting. I'm not sure I would be able to! Anyway, go on….
So once I had the general idea together, I put out the word for people to submit anonymous works to Twenty-Four Hours, our literary magazine and blog. Anonymous meaning there is no identifying name on the work, no pseudonym, nothing. A pseudonym is still an identity of sorts. In addition to that, the stipulation for publishing with the TFH ANONYMOUS CHAPBOOKS was that the author could not promote themselves online, in print, ever, lest they give away their identity and ruin the idea.
Oh! Right, of course!
The first chapbook—YOU ARE MY ANTI-SPAM HERO—deals with privacy, anonymity online, spam, identity theft, and other online goodies… the second one—THE USE OF TRAVEL—deals with who we are at home versus who we are elsewhere, and the third one—THE TIME-TRAVELERS ASS AND OTHER MILDLY ALASKAN SITUATIONS—is a more idiosyncratic book, with a series of humorous and bizarre pieces about Native Alaskans, reality TV, and yes time travelers. The author of that one also throws in a great piece where he recreates the Alaska state flag song in binary code. Incredible.
For Chapbook #1 (You Are My Anti-Spam Hero) we had a performance at a bar in Brooklyn, a great place called Pete's Candy Store, if you are in the neighborhood. The author came out to read, and so did a few other TFH people, myself included. For that, we wore masks so no one knew who we were… It was fun.
That sounds SO cool, Josh!! So do a lot of people ask if you're the author? Particularly since some of the pieces in #3 take place in Alaska, and you're from Alaska? And some of the pieces in #2 are about New York City, where you live now?
That's interesting! No one has ever asked me if I am the author. No, I'm not.
I'll tell you my favorite, and then I'm going to ask you what yours is. I loved "The Actual Names of People I Have Met in Anchorage that Made Me Smile When I First Heard Them." I got a huge kick out of that one.
Ha! That's a great one. I like all of it, honestly. I know that is a cop-out answer, but it's true. I wouldn't have published these chapbooks if I didn't love every word of them!
How are sales, and where can people buy copies?
They are okay! I sold quite a few to the authors themselves… I sent a few to bookstores in Chicago, and Austin, and a few here in the city… It's slow, but steady. The stack in my house is slowly shrinking! People can buy copies at the TFH Online Store at Etsy.com—and if those are out, they can go to Quimbys.com. Quimby's is a rad oddball-type bookstore in Chicago.
So what about your own writing projects?
I have put my own stuff on hold for the last couple of months, in order to accommodate the Anonymous Chapbooks, but I love it. This is very important to me. I'm starting a new project called OULIPOST, in April, though—with Found Poetry Review. It's for National Poetry Month 2014. We are all creating work inspired by the Oulipo, a loose affiliation of mostly French writers from the 60s—Raymond Queneau was a heavyweight in their group. They worked to incorporate mathematics principles and constraints into literary forms. For more info on it, check out my OULIPOST blog, Unicorn Dogs in Space!
What is National Poetry Month like for you… do you read more than usual, write more than usual, set yourself goals?
I read a lot but I read really sporadically and in little bits, so it's hard to quantify how much… but I certainly write more. The National Poetry Month project that Found Poetry Review did last year, Pulitzer Remix, inspired several more waves of found poems, well after the project ended last year.
The goals for these Found Poetry Review projects are very straightforward. One poem a day for the whole month. I love that pressure.
You're a professor in Queens… how does teaching influence your writing?
Teaching writing has shown me how much I still have to learn… and teaching literature has shown me the value of critics and theory. It had always been a little difficult for me to understand the value of it, before I started teaching. All of this thinking and crafting lessons, and constantly being questioned about how to write has made me a more humble, more cautious, and more well-rounded writer—because it forced me to read more, and write more.
What are some of your favorite tips for future writers?
Becoming a grammar freak has probably been the biggest help to me as a writer. I know that's not a sexy answer, but there you go. If you can't write a strong sentence, and can't get your point across, then what's the point of writing? There is no real difference between creative writing and non-creative writing. It's the writer that adds the creativity.
I know what you mean… I think a lot of writers think they can "push the envelope" and be "experimental" or "avant garde," but I agree with you—the writing has to accomplish a purpose… conjure up an image or an emotion, or something! I think a lot of writers want to just shock or be really obscure. That, to me, is a turn off. It DOES require skill, and it DOES require practice.
Absolutely. You have to have a foundational understanding of writing, in order to get way out there and experiment—and have it be successful. I kind of look at it this way—if you are truly a lover of people, and a lover of words, you will eventually explore all avenues of literature.
Like many young people, I was drawn to flashy and out-there literature: Douglas Coupland (Generation X), Burroughs, JG Ballard, photocopied literary fanzines… and I still love avant-garde writers. I just bought the Artaud Anthology from City Lights, and it's as wonderful as I'd hoped! But if you want to be a truly egalitarian writer (and person), you will eventually branch out from your literary clique and explore all facets of your art. I love realistic chroniclers of middle-class life, like John Cheever as much as radical experimenters like Samuel Beckett.
For me, the experimentation grew out of the punk rock philosophy of just getting up and making a noise, even if you don't have a clue of what you are doing. The important thing is that you try to leave a mark. I hope that I have grown as a writer and a person, since I was 20. If not, that would be very sad—presenting the same ideas over and over again, in the same juvenile manner? No thank you. The trick is to maintain the rawness and passion that got you started in the first place, but at the same time presenting your ideas in a more mature and nuanced way.
Can you tell us about Twenty-Four Hours?
Twenty-Four Hours is the literary magazine I started in the summer of 2001. It started out as a more zine-oriented thing, and was very much tied to my zinester roots—in authorial style and content.
It's grown to become more of an "everything and the kitchen sink" publication. We are a member of the CLMP (Council of Literary Magazines and Presses) because the bulk of what we do is literary—interviews, poetry, fiction, memoir, creative nonfiction, and so on. We also feature Q and A articles with musicians, activists, and what we think are interesting topics. Sometimes I don't know what it is, but that's ok. Sometimes I just listen and it tells me where it needs to go. We don't have any strictures on the type of writing we like, only that it expresses an idea or emotion honestly and powerfully.
Wow, 2001 is a long time ago! Okay, so for anyone who is interested in sending stuff, here's the direct link: twentyfourhourszine.blogspot.com . I know that you're also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/joshmedsker. Okay, so what's next for you? Got something new cooking?
Yes! My friend Eryk Wenziak—a great writer from Connecticut—and I are working on a "found materials book" I guess you'd call it. Stuff we found around our houses. I will leave it at that. But, I will say that it involves: carpet samples, old t-shirts, vinyl tiles, just to name a few things… Our working title is AT HOME. The stipulation we gave ourselves was that the items had to have emotional weight, so that when we re-purposed them for the book, there was a real sacrifice made on our part. I gave up my favorite t-shirt, a swath of carpet from my first house, Eryk put in his favorite shirt… and so on.
Eryk is writing a long poem for the inside, and we are both collaborating on the book pages, the covers, and so on… I may include an "easter egg" poem in it somewhere… I haven't decided yet! I've been into zines since I was a teenager, so it was only a matter of time before I became a full-blown book arts maniac.
What were some of your favorites?
Some of my favorite zines? I don't even know where to start. I was initiated into the world of zines by a guy named Barry Jenks, in Anchorage. He did a literary zine called Graffiti, which blew my 19 year-old mind. I didn't know that people could publish their own magazines. Since then, I have read and published zines voraciously. Some of my all-time favorites are Cometbus, Warning, Flipside, Maximum Rock n Roll, 10 Things, Factsheet 5, and a whole slew of others. Most of those are from the 80s and 90s, and are gone now, except Cometbus and MRR, which are both still going strong… Some of the more current zines I love are DreamWhip, We'll Never Have Paris, Burn Collector, Doris… too many to name. RazorCake, Xerography Debt, I write for them. Gag Me With A…
We plan on entering our creation into a book arts contest here in Manhattan. We are going to put an RFID chip in it, so we can track where it goes and develop and relationship with its buyer. And the cycle of home continues… perhaps he or she will re-purpose the book at some point for another project… who knows?
I can't tell if you're joking… are you really going to do that? It sounds wicked cool!
Oh yeah, dead serious! And thank you! I'll let you know how it goes.
Hey, Josh, thanks for squeezing us into your busy schedule… your head sounds like an amazing place!
Haha! Thanks! Welcome to the party!
What others had to say about it:
“A total mind-fuck”- Bob Holman, Founder of NYC’s Bowery Poetry Club and Co-Founder of the Nuyorican Poets Café
“ …Great tastes tasting great together in a peanut-butter-chocolate-fairy dust synergy of yay”- Pop Culture Beast’s BLOG ZINE
“[A] fascinating and insightful project”- Boston Literary Magazine
“I’m not really sure how to respond to this. I’d rather not review it.” – An editor who wished to remain anonymous