Metazen is a website dedicated to the publishing of alternative literature (‘alt lit’). This is a relatively new literary movement whose domain of choice is, largely, the internet; it’s countercultural and growing fast. Metazen‘s publications can take the form of short stories, poetry, literary cartoons, interviews or otherwise – all are new, most are unusual by the standards of mainstream literature, and many are provocative. Such literature has little regard for conventional norms or classical standards, and this makes it all rather exciting. The website states that it “does not believe in non-fiction, both in a literary sense and an existential sense”. One OxStu writer interviewed Frank Hinton, Metazen‘s founder and editor-in-chief, about the magazine and its content.
OxStu: To begin with something broad, can you say what alt-lit means to you?
Frank: I believe that alt lit is a group of writers gathering in a variety of virtual and real hangouts to share poetry, ideas and stories. I think that there are a number of netizens within alt lit that know one another, form interrelated groups and communicate using video broadcasting, facebook and gmail. They are netizens because a requirement of alt lit is that you have some sort of online presence, preferably a brand. They are alt lit because the general spirit of their association is writerly and poetic. Most of their interactivity occurs online, but there are a number of people that have taken on leadership roles within the community, some of which have hosted live parties. I think a number of these people have a strong presence at AWP [https://www.awpwriter.org/]. A number of them are published widely online or have books. All of them are aware of and sometimes influenced by Tao Lin and Steve Roggenbuck. I think there are many great writers and artists within the communities. There is a lot of great stuff being shared. However, I also feel that there are a number of people that identify with alt lit that create without thought or interest in art. There is a lot of bad terrible and ignorant stuff created in the name of alt lit. This is all really general, sorry.
OxStu: Okay, so metafiction seems like a big part of Metazen, and some of that involves reference to quasi-real events – specifically those concerning the character of Frank. Does this kind of publishing ever feel too revealing?
Frank: I think initially in creating Metazen I started with my fascination with the game of metafiction. Seeing things that Barth and Calvino were doing with reality and studying artists like Jonathan Goldstein and Charlie Kaufman lead me to want to play with reality in interesting ways.
Frank is a character in a number of my own stories and in my novel but also the name I use professionally as a writer. I try to play with the idea of Frank as a character but I also think that Frank probably best represents my personality as a writer and editor. I don’t know if it feels too revealing as I am generally selective and strategic about how I reveal things through Metazen or my writing or amongst my editors.
OxStu: Metazen exhibits a large variety of literary manner and style. Do you publish pieces of work which you dislike?
Frank: I was very selective with my editors and I put a lot of faith in their decisions. I am pretty clear in that I don’t like writing about vicious things like animal killing or rape. Obviously, violence is an element in a lot of wonderful fiction so I feel like the editors know the limits of what is acceptable. We don’t have a lot of issues where something I feel is sick comes through. I feel everyone is on board with a kind of standard to that.
OxStu: ‘Avant-garde’ might be a fair adjective for the site’s remit. To take the opposite, what’s boring in literature?
Frank: We publish five times a week and we get maybe six times as many submissions. I see a lot of subs that are just clearly written in haste. I guess, I think that approach is probably everything in writing. I get bored when I feel an author has a bad approach to the idea they’re trying to convey. I see it often. I think good writing involves a lot of precise angles and when something comes off as poor approach or maybe seemingly overdone or cliché then I sort of sigh and decline.
OxStu: Ok, so Metazen is allowed to choose one author, living or dead and from any genre, to publish a single short fiction on the site. Who is it?
Frank: Oh my god. To publish some fresh Joyce I can’t even imagine. What he would do to hypertext I’m sure would be impeccable.