An interview with Dani Spinosa

Dani Spinosa is a Canadian scholar and poet. Her work investigates the role of authorship and anarchist politics in digital and print-based experimental poetry. She is the author of one scholarly manuscript, nine peer-reviewed academic articles, four poetry chapbooks, and over a dozen literary publications. She is the managing editor of the Electronic Literature Directory, an adjunct professor of English at York University and Sheridan College, and a founding co-editor of the feminist experimental micropress Gap Riot.

How did you begin writing, and what keeps you going?

I started writing at the behest of a wonderful high school English teaching named Glenn Hayes. He encouraged us to write and to start our own literary magazine for our high school (it was called The Painted Door and it was lovely). And then I just kept reading, and that reading led to more writing. I keep writing for all sorts of reasons. I like the weird marketplace of poems that writing communities produce. I like the community of people I've encountered, and the lovely people I keep meeting. I like the joy of collaboration and the strength that comes with sharing ideas. And, above all, I like making and looking at pictures with words, taking those words out of their everyday use value and making them strange and weird and beautiful and complicated.

Have you noticed a difference in the ways in which you approach the individual poem, now that you’ve published a couple of chapbooks?

OH HECK YES. I used to write because something triggered in me, or because I wanted to record a feeling. Now I find that I primarily write to share and have others build off my work. I am especially interested in building off the work of others. Also, I am thinking more and more about how each poem will look published as opposed to how it looks on my own screen. That usually just means the poems aren't the full width of a word document. But, it also means I'm mindful of things like colour (which I'm working with a lot these days) and how poems work together as opposed to being their own stand-alone pieces.

How has the process of putting together a manuscript evolved? How do you decide on the shape and size of a manuscript?

I'm thinking of whole suites. Much of that thinking has come out of judging the Gwendolyn MacEwen poetry prize for Exile, which is a prize for a suite of poems. So, I'm thinking about visual poems that work together in addition to being separate little nodes. So, the mythology poems I've been working on lately are designed for a three-part suite: three collections of twelve poems each, all designed to one day work together like a calendar, recalling the pornographic print magazines that gave me the inspiration for the project in the first place. My first full-length collection, OO: Typewriter Poems, which will be out April 1st with Invisible Publishing, was also conceived as a larger project: four subsections of ten visual poems each to recall the glosa form that inspired the poems, with a fifth section of ten poems that are not glosas to show the additions I'm trying to make to the form. I like working with a predetermined form or number of poems because I think I produce interesting work when under some kind of constraint, but not too much. I also like to make rules for myself and then see when and where I end up breaking those rules.

Given you work in text and visual mediums, how do the two sides of your writing interact? How did you begin with visual poems at all?

Given that the writing of these mythology poems has several distinct levels, it's easier for me to talk about the process here than with my other visual work which is often a "let's see what happens if I do this" situation. With these mythology poems, I start with the name of the woman in Greek mythology. I select these women based on how trapped, limited, punished, or cornered they are in their stories. Cassandra and Danae are both trapped in their own, different ways. Then I write the text. For Danae's poem, I thought about the times I've taught Danae's story (always as the preamble to the monomythic story of Perseus) and how my students typically respond, and I tried to give voice to the twice-trapped Danae in that way. For Cassandra, the writing process was completely different. I instead went to Cassandra's lines in Aeschylus's Agamemnon; in this setting, Cassandra is a prisoner of war, a trophy, an object, and she's still of course trapped by the curse of Apollo that makes her prophecies destined to be ignored. I looked for Cassandra in her most vulnerable moments in the Oresteia and found her calling out to her first "captor," Apollo. So, I recorded how many times and on which line Cassandra calls out desperately to Apollo (who never answers), and I also added the exclamation points that were included in the translation I was using.

Once these poems are written, I type them up on my typewriter. In the case of both Cassandra and Danae, I was working with my cute little portable Olympia, but I have others that I use depending on the poem. Once they're typed and lineated to my liking, I scan in the images and digitally alter them, usually overlaying the poems several times until the image feels right. The last step is to select the pornographic image that will get "hidden" in the text itself. Each image is a photo of a nude woman scanned in from the March 1990 issue of Playboy Magazine with Donald Trump on the cover. I typically select the woman based on how she looks and if I can imagine her in the mythological woman's place. In the case of Danae, I was also looking for a photograph that would recall the gold of the shower that Zeus rains down on her to rape her in her tower. I assemble these disparate pieces and, voila, it's something like a poem.

What poets have influenced the ways in which you write?

Oh gosh, all of them. This project was sparked by Canisia Lubrin's use of Prometheus in Voodoo Hypothesis, but I was also thinking of these writers, and others: Erin Moure and her transelations, Anne Carson and Robert Duncan and their very different takes on mythology, Clara Daneri and her translation of texts onto digital women's bodies, Chris Warren and his typewriter poetics, Gary Barwin and his visual and revisionist sense of humour, NourbeSe Philip and the political power of her sprawling poetics, and, always always the incomparable Kate Siklosi and her work (and our work together) on women's bodies and voices and how to write on and about them in a world of derivation that still--oh, still, and will it always?--tends to be patrilineal.

You are co-editor/publisher of Gap Riot Press. Why do you feel this work is important, and what have you learned through the process?

Think about how that poem will look published. That's the biggest thing that Gap Riot has taught me about writing. The movement from a word processing document to a typeset page a tricky, complicated one. But, you should be thinking about that if your goal is to share those poems with readers. So often Gap Riot receives great submissions for work that are thinking about form only in the writing document, and then the movement of that work into a printed document gets difficult, and sometimes something gets lost in that process. So, I'm always worried about that on some level.

And then also, being on the back end of publishing has taught me a bit about how much you have to let a poem go when it's published. You have to give it to your readers. And if you're really lucky, they'll do things with your work that you hadn't thought of or planned. And that's the power of all of this, I think. That's the dream.

How important has mentorship been to your work? Is there anyone who specifically assisted your development as a writer?

Key. Key, absolutely. I have many poetry mamas (tho most often dudes, go figure) all in my head at all times. Glenn Hayes urging me to pay attention. Richard Teleky urging me to make it beautiful, whatever the cost. Gary Barwin telling me to make it more exciting, more fun, more free. derek beaulieu telling me to give that shit away. Andy Weaver telling me to steal other people's shit, but in a nice way. And the beautiful, somewhere voice of Priscila Uppal telling me to give 'em hell, have faith in my voice, and then to pay whatever gifts I get from this world forward. Where would I be without these voices?

What are you currently working on?

These myth poems mostly. Some glitch poems which will hopefully find a home somewhere soon. And then, trying not to kill a sourdough starter.

Can you name a poet you think should be receiving more attention?

Clara Daneri. Not only is she this gloriously fun, fierce femme, but she's doing some really innovated digital work and some gorgeous analogue work. Like, one day she'll be translating Byron onto this digital mannequin-esque image of a woman, and the next she's carving letters out of potatoes to make stamps. She's so intensely cool and everyone should check her out.

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