I only talked with Ernie Poodle about literature once, when we still lived in the same building. He was drinking a beer alone in a restaurant around the corner named Tuffstein, I came in and sat down at his table without being asked. That’s when I learned what he did — translate. I told him I was a journalist and that I was preparing to write my first book.
We talked about various approaches to literature: I found that a writer should write for a large audience, i.e. genre literature, murder mysteries and popular non-fiction: That’s the only kind of books people read because they feel like it, as opposed to reading to brag about it: “I find Ulysses inferior to Finnegans Wake, to be honest.” I hate that.
He disagreed. Good literature, he said, is understood by very few.
“I gotta say, you’re showing a lot of disrespect for the average reader,” I said.
“I give shit for the normal reader,” he said. “Normal people are shit.”
I was a little bit shocked — not at the attitude, which is an attitude a lot of people have, but at the anger with which he expressed it.
“Looking at you,” I said, “you’re not exactly a leading member of the literary elite who can afford to look down on the average reader. Or do you really believe you’re the next James Joyce?”
That’s when he said with even more anger, “All this pretentious literary bullshit is shit too, and James Joyce is the biggest shit of all.”
You couldn’t tell from looking at him, but Ernie Poodle was an angry man.
He was also neither James Joyce nor Stephen King. When I started to edit some of his writing after his death (because he never intended to publish, a lot of his stuff was unfinished; some texts were there in competing versions and others were made up of fragments only partly sewn together), I was uncertain whether it was worth publishing at all. I liked the stories, but I didn’t understand them.
They were unusual. Not the language and the plot — his writing is easy to read and you get what is going on. But his stories start out giving you the impression that they are funny, but they really aren’t. Or they read like a parody, but they aren’t that either. Some stories show off a kind of anti-literary attitude: They pretend tob e simple, straight-forward genre stories, but they don’t turn out not to be, not quite.
So I showed a few stories to friends, and I found their reactions interesting:
Some rejected it outright, saying, “It’s just weird.”
Others said that the stories stuck with them: “I kept seeing this guy in the hospital pulling the muscles out of his legs.” (“Darlene”)
Another friend said, “The guy waiting for that phone call, it made me sad, but I don’t know why.” (“Waiting for the Call”)
Yet another said, “I keep thinking about this goofy story about the grandfather with the alien grandkids that keep chewing his fingers off. I have to think of my own Dad and I wonder whether that’s how he saw me.” (“My Son Is An Alien”)
These stories are not for everyone, but enough readers were touched that it encouraged me to go ahead and find a way to publish the stories.
I think two things were important to Ernie. First, that he write something different - something no other writer could write. Second, that the stories haunted you in some way. Even if you don’t understand them.
So what kind of literature is this? The only description that everyone agreed with was: “It’s just weird.”
So that’s what we’re calling it: Weirdcore.
- Eric T. Hansen