The Art of Tetman Callis

Some of the stories and poems may be inappropriate for persons under 16

The Art of Tetman Callis header image 3



“Art is about taking risks.  Danger and chaos — those are the real muses an artist must court.”

— Robert Rauschenberg

“John Hawkes once said that plot, character, setting and theme are the real enemies of the novel.  `And structure — verbal and psychological coherence — is still my largest concern as a writer.  Related or corresponding event, recurring image and recurring action, these constitute the essential substance or meaningful density of writing.’”

— Ted Mooney

“Let your novel’s important characters dictate their life stories to you, beginning with childhood; write it all down; then throw it away and start the novel.”

— Barbara Kingsolver

“Write your heart out.”

— Rick Whitaker


In October of 1991, I returned to New York City and again attended one of Gordon’s private classes; again, I took notes.  These are they.

1)  Revealing oneself on the page as a moral imperative.

2)  The moral implications of your approach to life as a whole re: your work on the page

a)  What asses do you kiss?

3)  To read:

a)  The Log of the S.S. Mrs. Unguentine, Stanley G. Crawford;

b)  Motorman;

c)  Some Instructions to My Wife Concerning the Upkeep of the House…”, Stanley G. Crawford.

4)  “The only sanity is excess” — Brodkey

a)  To be totally accepting of oneself

b)  To embrace one’s natural excess

c)  To not be cowed

d)  To be full of nothing but the force of one’s own personality

e)  To emblazon oneself with oneself

f)  To see what you see and say what you say with all your heart and mind

5)  You must swerve and swerve and swerve until you defeat your attack.

6)  As you begin the creation of a piece, you are filled with an energy which is sufficient at the outset, but inevitably winds down.  This opening energy gives you authority, but you will lose this — inevitably.  What do you do?  This is where you must employ technique.  “You can count on the irrationality, the disequilibrium, only so much — only so much.”  Then you must employ your mind, your technique, swerve, torque, irony, sou conversacion.  You will lose this energy in five pages, your initial energy — you must then be cold, calculate, use your mind.

“The conditions of composition that will overtake you as you lose that initial energy.”

– The mind

– Know-how

– The will

“Desire sets you in motion.  At a certain point, desire must give way to will.”

This is what separates the adults from the kids.

Desire gives way to determination.

When the energy runs out, writing from your heart won’t do.

7)  To read: Mixed Blood, by Richard Rodriguez, in Harper’s

8)  Your world-making act is an adversarial act — “A kind of fuck-you to all the other objects.”

a)  “An act in response to reality”

9)  The title as “the proclamation of your right object” — The title can come first, if it is standing squarely at the point of being your right object.

10)  “My life is an adversarial act against the outrage of being extinguished.”

11)  “In the absence of true conflict you get plot.  That’s all you get.  Who needs it?  Who needs it?”

12)  You don’t tell stories — “You proclaim the universe as entirely yours;” that no one has spoken before you speak.

13)  “The instant you offer an explanation is the instant you have sentimentality.”

14)  The story is where it is — in the attack, in the initial conditions.

15)  “Nothing is stronger than the name of the thing.”  Name the right name, and you have the secret of the thing.

16)  “That’s the last word in naming the object — find the right name for the thing.”

17)  Acknowledge — be honest — when you don’t know what to do, tell the reader that.

18)  “Get the reader by his nuts as fast as you possibly can.”

a)  “Reduce your strategy to the most urgent sentence you can possibly find.”

19)  “An uncanny sentence contains within it a queer effect of truth.”

a)  “Always strive for the uncanny.”

20)  “The only way to demonstrate to yourself that you are the artist you must be is to solve every problem.” — Address the unpacking of the object. — Ask yourself, Why this object?  Why this facet?  Why that facet?

a)  “Oppose everything you can oppose” — make polarities — swerve, counter, balance — close your world, make of it a self-contained universe.

21)  Think of yourself as creating a memory bank, a relational database which you must thoroughly x-reference.

22)  Beware of pretentious attacks.  For that matter, beware of pretension, unless it’s ironic.

23)  Find the dangerous places in yourself.

24)  Two ways out of difficulty:

a)  Acknowledge difficulty:

b)  “Take quite literally something which is metaphorical, and enter into it as if it were real.”

25)  You make a muchness out of your meagerness, a rightness out of your wrongness.

26)  We are victimized by our ability to write.  We forget that we are most likely making a mistake every sentence we write.

27)  Never take what proves to be simply a convenience in order to get out of a sentence.  Return to, refactor, unpack the object.

28)  Master two terms:

a)  “The infinite elasticity of the English sentence;”

b)  “What shall be disclosed that issues out of your quiddity.”


4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 dan gulberry // May 26, 2011 at 4:34 am

    This is great – thanks so much for posting.

  • 2 Tetman Callis // Jun 4, 2011 at 11:29 am

    You’re welcome.

  • 3 Luke Tennis // Aug 20, 2012 at 9:55 pm


  • 4 Tetman Callis // Aug 21, 2012 at 6:32 am

    ditto–yr wlcm.

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