Blake Butler vs Philip Larkin in a Death Match

Well, although a finalist, I did not win the Tarrt Fiction Award for my short story collection. This seems extremely fair. The book needs seagull-swathed-in-oil spill kind of toweling off. I wish a reality show would appear at my door and the thin beautiful hostess with the ironic T shirt and the power saw would grab my manuscript and rip out the wirings and install a handicap ramp and match the drapes to the toilet and then give me $3000 to spend on heroin a MAN ROOM.

Here is my Man Room. You can’t see the hunting and disc golf gear because they live on the other side, with the camera. Kind of like Buzz Aldrin who was the official photographer for the Appolo Program so all the moon photos are of Armstrong. And then the few of Aldrin are even reflected in Armstrong’s shiny spaceman visor. Talk about a metaphor for being the second (though Aldrin was told he would be first, and then baited and switched while 40,000 km out in space) man on the moon.

The word sonnet means Little Room.

House is a Christian horror novel.

My mom burned our kitchen up (or is it down?) while cooking fried chicken.

I should have sent Joe Taylor, the head of Livingston Press a box of cigars and I might have won. The man knows cigars, and the future. He once introduced me at a reading by saying, “This is Sean Lovelace. He was a nurse. I have no idea why he changed jobs.”


I am often shocked by my own mediocrity. Though not sure why. I mean I have to wake up to this situation every single day. For example, yesterday I sat at my computer and attempted to write. Nothing happened. It was like trying to squeeze Miller Lite from an orange flyswatter. Finally, I wrote:

Wanted to bolt. To heavy soil. To be alone. Sat in my Subaru and drank an oil can of Fosters. The beer tasted metallic. Like as a child with my pellet gun and never any pockets in my 1970s striped shorts for the pellets so I held them in my mouth. My cheek pouches. Basically treating lead like chewing tobacco. Ingesting poison.


Today for lunch I decided to bake tortilla chips. Then melted cheese. And toppings.

Nacho Rating: Made these at home, as is my Glim-Glam way. 6 of 10. The chips were divine. The black beans all Phillip Lopate. I added chipotle sauce and a heavy dose of Grapefruit Pulp Hot Sauce. Overall, a lunch that made me open my lungs and refold them.


1.) Kendra Grant Malone’s FF in 3:AM Magazine. This text is very The Day Lady Died, and I like Frank O’Hara. That dude would have loved blogging.

Also I enjoyed Kendra’s poem TONIGHT PEOPLE SUCK (BUT SOME ARE GREAT) AND THIS IS NOT A POEM BUT AN HONEST RECOLLECTION from her DRUNK blog. Kendra often writes in ALL CAPS. I think she enjoys screaming, or maybe her Caps Lock got stuck then broken off in a scuffle. The poem begins:



2.) Daniel Bailey’s FF in Smokelong Quarterly. Yes, yes, I gave him this writing prompt in my Fiction Workshop class. So slap me louvered window.

3.) Any check you sign.

4.) A self help book on how to change your oil. Followed by one on how to survive matrimony.

5.) Ana Marcela Fuentes’s FF in Vestal Review. Great title. Though Vestal Review makes anger unfurl in my forehead. Because the Byzantine submission requirements make it damn near impossible to send anything in.

6.) There is no number 6.


Frank O’Hara was run over and killed by a dune buggy. Richard Kidd fell into a waterfall and was swept away. Sylvia Plath stuck her curly, curly head into an oven…

A few months ago this Catholic Priest died when he tied 1,000 helium balloons to a lawn chair and then rocketed into the air!

By the way, right now, as you read this, you have a one in 193 chance of dying by a fall. But the important thing is to avoid cars (one in 87) or yourself (odds of committing suicide–one in 121).

What’s my point???

Blake Butler vs Philip Larkin in a Death Match!!!!!!!!!!

The rules are simple: Which author writes better about death in the two texts I have chosen? The categories are:

Best Opening Line

Best Image

Best Thing That Made Think

Best Reference to Nachos

Best Ending Line

The official judge of this and future contests is God me.


“Eternal nothingness is fine if you happen to be dressed for it.”

Woody Allen


Blake Butler stretches shadows with his cross-genre musing from diode, List of 50 (16 of 50): Death Toll

Philip Larkin delivers with his morning song poem, Aubade


Best Opening Line

Larkin: ” I work all day, and get half drunk at night.”

Butler: “1. In 2003, one out of every 113 people died, according to”

Butler comes out swinging, as he establishes an intrigant, a term coined by Jerome Stern, from from the best book out there on How-To-Write-Fiction. And he sets up one prong of his argument, the same thematic area hinted at by Larkin (and many others who dare inspect personal extinction): the role of religion in this whole mortality thang.

But Larkin prevails here, as he establishes his narrator as someone we can all get behind: a drunken, angry, selfish bachelor. And it is the half-drunk voice that will lead to his reflections on death. Half drunk is a time when the mind goes off its jangling leash, as opposed to the denial of sobriety and the oblivion of being hammered.

Best Image

Butler just nips Larkin here, with “9. In the mirror finding a small bruise on my forehead that I don’t remember getting.” Being placed on this earth to eventually die is exactly like finding a bruise of unknown origin. A big-ass cosmic joke, but not so funny. This line also reminds me of Norman Mailer’s excellent noir/marijuana/visceral blur novel, where a man wakes from a night of drinking to find a fresh tattoo and copious amounts of blood splashed all over the interior of his Porsche. He has no idea how or why. Begin story.

Best Thing That Made Think

Larkin is strong here, as he writes, ” Most things may never happen: this one will.” A devastating line. Death. It’s waiting on us. Just waiting there, sipping a glass of hemlock. Yawning and smiling. Or as a doctor in the Denver city ER (talk about death, we actually had coffee mugs and T shirts with our slogan on them: THE GUN AND KNIFE CLUB) told me one night over an oily cup of coffee, “Death, it’s going around.”

Honorable Mention: Butler has actual recorded words from pilots as they realize (or do not?) they are about to crash their airplane into EternalVille.

A few years back, Michael Martone did some kind of black box fiction thingy, but I’m too lazy to find it on the Internets.

Also, a friend of mine just learned his uncle died while piloting a plane. He crashed into a field of corn. The odd thing is the accident was video recorded, and then someone sent the video to my friend. Is that a nice thing to do?

Best Reference to Nachos

Neither author made reference to nachos. The bastards.

Best Ending Line

Butler: “50. I don’t want to look at the internet anymore.”

Larkin: “Postmen like doctors go from house to house.”

Both lines have this reflection on death end where we all go: into retreat. Butler’s narrator doesn’t want to even look anymore. Larkin has his characters return to one of our many escapes, work. But Larkin’s ending spirals into a bit more. The postmen might be bringing a personal letter, or a card of condolence, or the tax forms. And what is the doctor doing? And so on. Every job, like every life, is tainted by death. It’s all connected in a giant forever spider web. With no escape.

Conclusion: Well, both works are fascinating. Both made me slightly depressed. Then thoughtful as I sought the catalyst for my depression. What is it exactly I can’t handle about my approaching and certain demise? Folks, I had to do some thinking. Some soul-thrumming. Some closed fist, and moths in my beer bottle. And therefore, after reading both texts, I felt more alive. I thank these fine authors. And, in a smidgen of a Chinese Elm, Larkin takes the title today!

He is the Iron Poet! (lame allusion)

And so, to avoid clinical sadness, and in his honor, we will end with another of Larkin’s uplifting peaches:

Philip Larkin – This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
  They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
  And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
  By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
  And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
  It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
  And don't have any kids yourself.

9 responses to “Blake Butler vs Philip Larkin in a Death Match

  1. christian fiction is important. I didn’t know they did horror.

  2. liked your best list
    im over the “there is no number (fill in blank)”

  3. You would think there would be more Christian horror with all the shit that goes down in the Bible. Everyone knows about the plagues and such, but at one point in the old testament the ground literally opens up and swallows someone. It’s sort of like Critters, only with God instead of the Critters.

  4. thanks, sean, for suggesting people read the story (and for the prompt).

    also, DRUNK, has poems by a bunch of different people. i actually wrote that one. it’s “nonfiction,” in the sense that it’s what happened according to a drunk person. caps lock = drunk.

    i bet the christian horror novel is all two guys making out and talking about adopting babies and it’s really suspenseful and terrifying for the readers.

  5. thank you sean, i am happy to have competed, i feel jogged.


    i’m curious: what’s the best nachos you’ve ever had?

  6. the whole caps locks thing is simple. dan and i started the drunk poems via email. we would use caps to indicate that it was a drunk poem. it just seemed to fit and made it easier to talk about the poems we were sending each other since we didnt have to start by asking, “so how fucking wasted were you when you wrote this?”

  7. oh p.s. thanks for linking to my story babe. im glad you liked it.

  8. stanza = room

    sonnet = little song

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