Thursday, February 08, 2007

Writer's Corner

Spencer Dew

To have your words speak for themselves, and let your stories paint your biography is really the goal of any writer. Does that make them mysterious or paint a false image, I don't know, but it does create persona regardless of what you choose to say about yourself. Case in point, every time I've read the work of Spencer Dew it has been followed by one sentence, "Spencer Dew lives in Chicago". That biography left my mind to wander back through his words to create an image of who I thought he may be, but I wanted more. I was able to find a short interview he did with SmokeLong Quarterly over two years ago, that talked about his experience in the Middle East and his take on how a novel is born (“But what ultimately propels any novel is good poetry, clarity and convulsion of imagery, and that element should be able to stand alone in short work, radically condensed. So I think the egg of the idea is the same for any length of work, and often, for me, a single piece will expand and contract and morph around until it settles in a mature shape.”). This was helpful, but I want more, so here is more with Spencer Dew:

Orange Alert (OA): Tell me about yourself, and how you discovered your gift for writing.
Spencer Dew (SD): I don't know how to write bios, I think. Like, I always say that I live in Chicago and then just list some places that have published things, which is more like an index or some kind of, what, linking thing, nodes on a network, and not a "biography" in the sense of a narrative of, yeah, upbringing and schooling and which wars I fought in or whatnot. Is that enough of an answer or do I need to, like, give you actual biographical facts? Or how about this: "Spencer Dew doesn't want to be overly mysterious, but he really dreads coming across like an ass." Or: "Spencer Dew lives in Chicago and regrets ever opening his mouth." Does that answer the "gift of writing" question, too?

OA: Who are your biggest literary influences?
SD: This is more a question to gnaw on... Anne Sexton says you have to hide your influences. That's probably fair. But there's also, like, a list of authors and texts that you just want to hand out on the El platforms, etc. Kenneth Patchen, Joy Williams, Steinke's "Suicide Blonde," Aragon's "Paris Peasant," Breton's "Nadja," Lyn Hejinian, Kathy Acker. I read "The Bell Jar" and "The Sun Also Rises" every year. They keep working. Lots of stuff. I'm really bad at remembering. Maybe also I'd say that the secret (and Sexton probably was implying this, too) is a rage toward absolute variety, to just, like, expose yourself to whatever you normally wouldn't, to take those risks, sit down with medical textbooks or hardware guides. One of the best things I read recently was this, like, recruitment pamphlet for one of the big brokerage firms, introducing prospective employees to the pace of worklife there, etc. A gorgeous little book, with lines like: "No time for a three-martini lunch in this business; food is only fuel." So true. And yet so false.

OA: How would you define creativity?
SD: I really wouldn't, which is the smartass answer, which them makes me really anxious and beady with self-loathing, as hinted at in the answer to question A. I don't know. It's interesting to look at, like, juxtapositions and such, and interesting to follow that as a kind of practice, into creative thinking, unexpected parallels. But that's a cheap answer, too, and only half of the truth. Know your history. That's an aphorism or instruction or whatever, but if anything is key to creativity, really, that has to be it.

OA: Do you listen to music while you write? Who are your favorite groups or musicians while writing and in general?
SD: Sometimes I listen to music when I write, yes. Or, like, even more than that, sometimes I write with music in mind, a specific phrase or, more usually, a specific beat or series of bars... I'll take an opening bass line and really work out from there. That's what I think about doing, as I do it, working out a tone and some images and a scene to match a musical line. Tangled up with that is the fact that I get fixated on individual songs, and play one song over and over and over. Often, otherwise, it's distracting, music and writing at the same time, but by the fortieth repetition of "Pilgrim" it's kind of a tonal drone, distilled to pure essence of feeling, with a beat, and the words blur away and you can write your own words to that sound, that pulse, that emotion. Sheesh. This is proof that I am no music writer.

OA: I’ve heard you are working on a novel, is there anything you can tell us about the concept and when it might be available for purchase?
SD: have a novel I'm shopping around, about nostalgia and college and Ohio and kids locked on tragically banal trajectories, rejecting all hope of change. Cheery stuff, but it cracks me up. There's a llama in it, and lots of squirrels, because I like squirrels. I like cats, too. I don't have any feelings toward llamas, except that they are scenic. I'm also finishing a novel about vigilantes in Chicago, or about a really lonely and unhappy guy who believes that he is in league with vigilantes in Chicago, the comic book kind, with butchery at various tourist sites and, you know, trained cougars... The project I'm starting is a bit more refined, if that's the word. It's about relationships.

Spencer does live in Chicago and he is a PhD. student at the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is currently writing a dissertation on the ethical/political motivations for Kathy Acker's literary techniques.

Here is a comprehensive list of where Spencer has been published, and here are a few of my personal favorites:
White Sale (from Cerebral Catalyst)
The Heart of it All (from No Media Kings)
Dogs of Goya, Velasquez, and Cervantes (from Wandering Army)
Thirteen Ways of Looking at Pregnancy Test (from Juked)
He is also a weekly contributor to Thieves Jargon.

(Photo by Jeremy Biles)