17th May 2018
Hey, hiii! This coffee is honestly U N R E A L! thanks so much! [praying emoji] [crying emoji]
This is an easy question because I never used to be into poetry growing up. Maybe it's cause most of my birth chart is in Capricorn, but there is a certain premise of possibly sentimental honesty (or at least a requirement of emotional capacity) in most canonical poetry that I never felt comfortable with when I was younger (and possibly still now). I loved reading, that's pretty much all I did before high school, but the only poetry I remember actually liking in school was Martial - cause it was funny -, Leopardi and Ungaretti - cause they were sad, and what teenager doesn't love being sad -, and Baudelaire cause I mean, legend [sunglasses emoji].
I moved from Italy to California when I was 18 and ended up in a Modern Lit class taught by this really cool teacher (an ENTP for sure, looking back). On the first day he made us read 'The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock' and he started asking around what we thought this bit or that bit meant, and I remember that had never happened to me before; no teacher had ever asked me to look at a text and really say how and why I thought it worked. And I was like wow, this is fun / poetry in your second language is so much more interesting! So I started this mad rush trying to catch up on 18 years of missed reading in English, while trying to actually learn English properly I guess? I stole every McGraw-Hill/Norton anthology the school library had, and basically read them back to back (understanding maaayybe half?), transcribing the poems I liked in a wee notebook from Jo-Ann, lol.
Then I obviously started writing really bad poems. You know how they say 'everyone has a novel in them'?; Billy Collins says somewhere that everybody is born with at least 200 bad poems in them, the sooner you get rid of them the better. And it's so true. It's hard because I don't think you can help but write in the style of what you've been reading - whether you like it or not - in my case, a very clumsy and unsophisticated version of whatever dramatic monologues fill Norton anthologies. It wasn't until I got deep into Lorine Niedecker / H.D. / William Carlos Williams that I started actually seeing myself in what I wrote. Which is kind of funny but also pathetic - the more effectively I copied people I thought were cool, the more that felt like myself speaking.
Maybe because English is my second language, which means I learnt it through conscious/analytical imitation of other texts, or maybe just because of I came of age among the internet's beautiful flood of textual detritus, but I literally cannot write from a blank page; I need a source to follow and take apart and reshuffle. I am definitely not a writer at heart, I'm just an ok copycat; a decent rewriter. I like to take poems, texts or phrases I like, and then keep rewriting them and rewriting and rewriting them until the result is far enough from the original that it feels mine, or at least that I can get away with it (lol). I especially like reproducing other writers' syntactical structures or rhythms, and see what content / words / images my brain fills in the blanks with.
I'm very slowly working on two things at the moment, neither of which might even ever see the light of day. The first one is a book of bad memes, or poetic screenshots; imagine a diary but of my life on the internet (sounds thrilling, I know). The second one is a series of poems inspired by Shinichi Atobe's World, which is a banging record I've been obsessed with. Every track is titled like 'World 1', 'World 2', 'World 3', etc., and I really love the idea of thinking of songs in an EP, or poems in a collection as self-contained parallel worlds, related but independent. I'm just interested in playing with separate scenes seen through the eyes of the same person / narrator / subject, but not necessarily belonging to the same narrative. Like Sliding Doors x1000, but more pretentious, if u KWAM?
'20 Pack' started as a sort of mindfulness exercise - I was trying to quit smoking, so I was like ok, I'm going to buy a pack of 20 and that will be be my last ever (lol/fml). There's something about that finite amount in the closed box - you know - a clear number of self-contained opportunities to smoke - that is quite the opposite of what a bag of loose baccy stands for. I forced myself to write a note on my phone each time I ended up having one (why was I having it, where was I having it, did it feel good), but because I'd always end up smoking when very drunk, or fleeing, or sad, or angry, the notes turned into something between incoherent diary entries, philosophical mush, emotional detritus, self-help imperatives, strings of illegible typos, etc. At this point I had given smoking as a practice so much thought I had lots of stuff to say, so I turned those 20 notes into poems. Colin Herd [heart eye emoji] invited me to read them at an event in Edinburgh, and Sam Riviere (who I had never met at the time) happened to be there, and he asked to publish them with If A Leaf Falls press.
I still feel like '20 Pack' slowly made itself happen without my permission - like I never gave it too much thought as a literary product, you know, it was more of a document for internal use only - then big shot Sam, who I've always been a big fan of, decides he likes them and obviously I'm like ofc bae please take them away from me. So I don't know, I am so glad '20 Pack' exists and that some people like it, and I am fairly happy with it - but I feel like it escaped from me more than, like, I crafted it. Every time I see it somewhere it's got an evil twinkle in its eye, kind of like Kevin from We Need To Talk About Kevin; it's my baby but I think it hates me. Also I still smoke, so that can't be good.
Yasss! The launch in February was fire emoji! And we've actually just launched two new pamphlets with SPAM Press!, too! And we have an event coming up for GI, too - which will be [100 emoji] [wet emoji] We never stop!!!! [cool sunglasses emoji] but also [overworked cry/laugh emoji]
When Maebh and I were at uni we would often chat about how shocking it was that none of the poetry or literature publications we saw around resembled the stuff you're actually used seeing when you live in the 21st century (i.e. the internet), or presented themselves as particularly accessible / approachable. They all took themselves very seriously, which we weren’t comfortable with, and seemed to revolve around a closed group of people or a specific institution. We also found most of them pretty conservative, dusty, and quite predictable in all honesty. So we thought - let’s just do it ourselves. Maebh is a Cancerian and I’m a Capricorn - two cardinal signs (the initiators), and also the mother figure and the father figure of the zodiac - so maybe that explains something, too.
We wanted the publication to be experimental (in the sense of a mutable place where to try new things, and in the sense that we only like rhymes ironically - ‘as a way out of the room’ to quote Eileen Myles); we wanted it to be post-internet (because it had to be relevant and relatable, and ‘contemporary’ doesn’t sound contemporary at all); and we wanted it to be a zine (because there is something about the word that says ‘affordable’, ‘unpretentious’, ‘democratic’, and calls for intervention: collage me, rip me apart, actually read me without being scared of ruining me). We met an eccentric benefactor who helped us fund the first issue (shout out to Jason: Thank You Baby), then SPAM happened - first as a photocopied, hand-sewn zine (we literally bribed a cobbler to let us use his hand-crank sewing machine), then as slightly more legit but still DIY (in the sense that we still don't really know what we're doing lol); and now as a small press, too! Happy days [heart eye emoji] [angel emoji]
I think we (Maebh, Maria, Max and I) would quite like SPAM to keep growing towards more multi-media forms of poetry, or just towards different ways of understanding what poetry might be in a world where the internet also exists. We also have a website going which we'd like to fill with essays about contemporary poetics in the broadest possible sense (hmu xoxo). We want to organise more collaborative readings like the one coming up for GI. We want Chris & Kem from Love Island to make an arthouse silent film about Bernadette Mayer, that kind of stuff. Just give us time, we'll get there.
On a very basic level, it's just a funny way to defamiliarise the technology we have so seamlessly absorbed into our lives. (Look, it's a youtube comment poem but it's actually on paper?!) I remember when issue 2 came out, and we decided to include two snapchats my friend Calum (Lanark Artefax) had sent me, and I was actually so shocked to see what a snapchat picture actually looked like in black and white, flat on an unresponsive page; so alien, and so ridiculous. There is a strange quality to what you see on a screen all the time but never see on paper; when the magically immaterial takes such a pathetic, vintage form (black and white xerox: soooo very functional, sooo very late 20th century) it feels like an odd leak, it feels plain wrong but also funny. Maria (one of the SPAM co-editors) was telling me about the writer/curator Bronac Ferran summarising our contemporary interest in these more concrete forms as ‘a post-digital appreciation of materiality’, which I'm pretty sure we can all relate to. I fucking love saying 'lol' and 'fml' or acting out emojis as a physical reaction. It's always very sexy and fun when online and IRL collide. There's no point pretending we can or should try and keep the two separate anymore.
SPAM is a baby with so many co-parents (3 other editors, more than like 50 contributors so far, and LOTS of people who have supported us from day 1 in many different ways), so in a sense collaboration is my practice. Every call for submissions we've put out we've been astonished by the incredible work we've received; and these people are responding to the fucking weirdest themes like 'astral projections and talismanic persuasions' or 'chips and cheese'; you try and put together an experimental & post-internet poem about that. I literally couldn't.
The other SPAM editors are actual forces of nature; Maria is the most productive writing machine to ever grace this earth, with a brain that for real >scares< me on the daily; Maebh is a cultural omnivore, I still haven't found one thing she isn't interested in; impeccable taste in writing, incredibly intuitive editing skills; and Max has great hair; I couldn't ask for more. Hashtag blessed, hashtag squad goals, etc
I have an undoubtedly unhealthy obsession with the novelist Tom McCarthy, which is actually how Maria and I met. (I added 'Tom McCarthy rip-offs not only accepted, but also encouraged' to one of our call for submissions, and I could so tell she was a die-hard fan too about 4 lines into the poem she sent in. Turns out we both wrote our dissertations on the guy!).
Core BAES I keep coming back to are Gertrude Stein, Lorine Niedecker, Cid Corman, Tom Raworth, H.D., Aram Saroyan, Yoko Ono, John Yau, Rae Armantrout.. and many I am forgetting. I truly have a really bad memory, so I actually come back to them cause I've been lucky enough to forget what their poems are like - type thing.
Real Life Mag is probably the only publication ever of which I can honestly say I'm excited to see every single thing they publish. They get it
RN I am most excited about Cardi B, my new job, my new squeeze, and getting into a big-girl/posh research master's I might not even be able to afford!! [cool sunglasses emoji] [angel emoji] [beg emoji] [education & elitism emoji] But my mum is so proud :')
Denise is an editor and writer based in Glasgow, where she runs SPAM zine & press. Her work has been most recently published in Adjacent Pineapple, Datableed, and Eratio. You can find her on the gram at @pleasantview_bellagoth.