Exploring the Expanded Field

On the first day of my writing classes, I make my students do the improv-writing one-sentence exercise. It’s the one where you pick a line from some random source—a book, a magazine, a writing partner—and use it as a jumping-off point to write a story. It’s a great exercise for getting unstuck as a writer, and for scaring the shit out of students on their first day of class.

Coordinated and designed by Mike Corrao, Collected Voices in the Expanded Field (11:11 Press, 2020) contains 34 chapters, each by a different author, all opening with the two 11-word lines, “You see a watering hole. Reprieve from the old dusty path.” Publisher Andrew Wilt compares and contrasts the book to the inexpensive compilations punk labels used to put out. It’s like them in that it’s a good way both for his 11:11 imprint to publish a bunch of authors at once and for readers to find them. It’s different in that though they all have books out, a lot of these authors are not published elsewhere by 11:11. Wilt and Corrao wanted to showcase members of “this weird writing scene” they’re a part of.

The book represents an experiment on several different levels. Outside of the launching lines, the chapters are set in conversation with the chapters around them. That is, this doesn’t quite read like a collection of short stories but one, long loosely linked set of weirdness. There are also whole chapters of script pages, word art, and glitchy layouts. The 34 voices here include Arielle Tipa, Evan Isoline, Candice Wuehle, Ali Raz, Sean Kilpatrick, Tatiane Ryckman, Jake Reber, Mike Kleine, Rosie Šnajdr, and my friends B.R. Yeager and Gary J. Shipley, as well as Wilt and Corrao themselves. It’s one hell of a line-up.

Wretch by Ansgar Allen (Schism Neuronics, 2020) opens with the line, “This is the last machine they will give me, so I hope, since if I do not wreck it, I am healed.” It’s a prison journal of sorts, but it’s difficult not to read it through 2020’s lens of chaos. The machine, the copying of files, phrases like “internal demolition,” and “unreliable reports” all sound way too familiar to anyone locked in their house, scrolling through a feed, reposting nonsense:

No single account can be trusted. Each account may contain the forces of unreason at work within it. There is at least one tear in every account.

In spite of this and because of this, Wretch is a harrowing read. Its dread is unshakable. Its own expanded field is deep inside each of us.