Today is the first in a series of posts taking a closer look at the Ninth Letter contributors who will be participating in the Early Spring Literary Festival here at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. For this installment, 9L staffer Laura Adamczyk interviewed William Gillespie by email about his poem, "Newspoem" in the current issue (vol. 7, no. 2). Enjoy!
9L: In "Newspoem" you write: "The only restriction the academy puts on my writing is that after two years I have to check a box to indicate whether it's poetry, prose, tech, drama, or theory. This, of course, is not that. This is a letter." Would you indeed call this a letter? Why do you think people are so obsessed with putting the "right" genre labels on work?
William Gillespie: A work of writing, properly labeled, is a bomb defused and buried in a sealed canister. WARNING: CONCEPTUAL POEM: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO READ.
9L: This piece directly considers its reader. The "friend" that the speaker is writing to feels like a specific person at times and a general reader at others, the speaker expressing his compulsion for seemingly anyone to read his work. My question is: Who do you imagine as the ideal reader for this piece?
WG: In 1996 I attempted to write a poem a day about the news. These newspoems were posted on wall and given to friends. In 1999, I set up a newspoetry website, which continued for four years. I continue writing newspoetry for walls and the web.
In this newspoem -- dated Novemeber 1996 -- I attempted to write a personal letter a day to various friends, and then combined them into a month-long personal letter to an amalgamation. So the poem is literally epistolary.
9L: "Newspoem" has an elusive, slippery quality to it. Just when I thought I had a handle on it, it shifted. Mixed metaphors and wordplay abound. I wonder if you could respond to a question your speaker asks his reader: "Why memorize a song if it destroys the pleasure of reading it on the page?"
WG: Music and dance notation fascinate me. Except for player piano rolls, decoding encoded music must lead to different results each time. Interpretation is necessary. Same with recipes. I find this act of translation beautiful. I don't know why. Text can describe, but also encrypt, sound, movement, flavor.
9L: The motif of music runs throughout the piece (e.g. repetition of "The obvious analogy is with music). For me, it had a manic energy of a really long punk song (a bit of an oxymoron, yes) or something by James Chance. What kind of song would this be if it were a song? What band or artist would perform it?
WG: I wish I could say a long composition by King Crimson circa 1973 like "Lark's Tongues in Aspic," with different movements and strident rock violin. But it's probably more a cut-up like John Zorn's "Tre Nel 5000." Or "Revolution 9," only better. There's a punk defiance in its rigorous discontinuity. I considered it unpublishable until you guys published it.
9L: Lastly, an old professor of mine once said that all writers really just want to be rock stars. Are we just a bunch of rock wannabes without the stage presence?
WG: Yes. And without the money.
Thanks to William Gillespie and Laura Adamczyk for a wonderful conversation. To read "Newspoem" and all the other fantastic poems, stories, and essays, pick up a copy of the current issue (vol. 7, no. 2) in our webstore.
Be sure to make it out to the kick-off reading for the Early Spring Literary Festival on Sunday, March 13 at 4pm at Figure One in downtown Champaign to hear William Gillespie and Amy Hassinger read from their work.