Punk’s not dead(lines)
Libby Zeleke’s non-fiction story, “We Were Punk Rockers” (writing as Livvy Black), was one of the two winning entries in our 2012 Creative Non-Fiction contest. We talked to her about her experiences as a punk rocker, her writing life, and her unconventional advice for this year’s entrants.
In her professional life, Libby often writes in a technical or legal vein, so “We Were Punk Rockers” served as a release from working for a paycheque or a good grade. “It felt provocative, even outrageous,” she says, “to think through the possibilities of punk and of punk articulation against these more orthodox and self-contained disciplines…against the privileged or elite engagements of law or academia. Punk as an act of (collective) writing might insist that narratives are everywhere and for anyone.”
“We Were Punk Rockers” introduces us to punks who are writers and storytellers, who are collectively and obsessively self-disclosing. Here punk “is intensely pre-occupied with language, with narrative and voice. Punk,” Libby says, “does not let you walk away without scars. So, for me, writing the collective struggle of punk was as liberating as it was painful.”
The idea of writing a punk narrative had been with Libby for a long time, but it was when she decided to ask questions about the form of non-fiction, to, in effect, explore what it meant to write punk—that the piece took shape.
“It was not until I had come across techniques such as sampling in Rap and Hip Hop or after I had seen Godard’s film Notre Musique that I understood something about punk discourse; for instance, the idea that punk is montage—that it fashions new narratives from disparate elements, sometimes with nothing more than paper and scissors. Punk also crystallized for me in looking at a Gerhard Richter photo-painting, or in reading Marguerite Duras’ poetry on Hiroshima.”
Contest deadlines are essential to Libby’s writing process, whatever the genre: “I schedule my life around them. I have date books full of them. I re-order, re-write, and edit a manuscript to a contest deadline.” But it wasn’t until EVENT that she experienced the rush of winning, and describes her shock at hearing the news like being “ a dazed punk-rocker just out of the mosh pit.” She made the most of her win, by making sure her “friends, detractors and sworn enemies alike were getting the information about EVENT’s contest and my winning entry in their news feeds. Trust me when I say, winning a writing contest is one small moment of personal and collective vindication.”
Since her win, Libby has been working on a number or projects that pick up where “We Were Punk Rockers” left off, and exploring her “obsessions” like violence, war, the atrocities of the 20th century, utopia/dystopia, revolution and apocalypse. Lest that sound a little on the heavy side, one of her current projects is a play; “a comedy set in a dystopic future entitled ‘Kamikaze Women’ after Woody Allen’s character in Husbands and Wives.”
Her advice to this year’s entrants? “I would say that no matter what happens, write as you would a punk mantra. Be relentless. Insist on your story, but be ruthless in your discipline. Write against the hype. Smash all thoughts about the romance and mystique of creative genius while maintaining a deep commitment to your punk fashion-sense. Revel in the pure idiosyncrasies, the freakishness of your outcasts, and then let them run into the mosh pit. When you run into problems in the narrative—say, like the disappearance of a character or the dissolution of the entire narrative community—do not be afraid to enter the rhetorical basement. Bring with you a punk memento.”
Speaking of which, get yourselves over to our contest page and enter before it’s too late! This year’s deadline is (postmarked) April 15th…