From left: Spencer Madsen, Giancarlo DiTrapano, Giancarlo DiTrapano, Spencer Madsen
Welcome to Who Cares What You Think About the Book You Wrote, a new semi-regular series where I flip the common reader/writer interview on its head and ask the author to interview me about the book they wrote. The idea here is that most people don't give a shit about the writer’s “writing experience” and are more interested in what their reading experience will be like.
First up is Spencer Madsen, wunderkind and l'enfant terrible of the New York writing scene. His most recent collection of poems is titled You Can Make Anything Sad and was released last month by Adam Robinson at Publishing Genius. Spencer also runs the wonderful press Sorry House. Get familiar.
This interview was conducted via email and is a highly experimental thing, folks, so open your minds. And enjoy.
Spencer Madsen: Let's get this out of the way to begin with: How many times did you think of the picture below while reading my book?
Giancarlo DiTrapano: I think about that picture several times a day, every day. But when I was reading your collection of poems, I probably thought about it during every line break. Also, even though you didn't inscribe it anywhere in the book, just knowing that every word in this collection was dedicated to me, written for me, because of me... Well, it just means a whole hell of a lot.
Yeah, man, you're “Keila.” Had to give you a pseudonym for the book. “Giancarlo DiTrapano” just doesn't evoke the same connotations. Sorry I kept breaking up with you. Also, did this page make you regret not publishing me?
Yeah, but only the second graph, because it touches upon a truth that took me a while to learn:
"Most people have more efficient ways of dealing with their emotions than writing books."
I used to think that writers or artists were better than people who don't write or make art. Or not exactly better, but that they had something others lacked. Then I realised that quite the opposite is true. The writer is the one with the lack, I feel, and he has to fill that thing that’s missing by producing texts to show the world how he exists and feels. The old saying about how there are Greater Poets and Lesser Poets can be applied here. The Lesser Poets are the ones who write things down. The Greater Poet lives his art; his every move is poetic and he has no need for attention and praise.
If I had published this I would’ve cut the “dick like Gogurt” line, though.
I would've fought tooth and nail for the "dick like Gogurt" line. It very well could have torn us apart, but I don't think there was any mention of it from Adam. I can't tell if it's out of insecurity that I put sincere lines of personal insight next to absurd ones like the Gogurt line, or if I find it genuinely important to use one emotion to underscore another. I think I am afraid of sincerity, but I don't think sincerity has to exclude humour or self-awareness.
If you had edited my book, what else would you have changed – from page to PR to cover?
OK, fine, you would have fought tooth and nail for the Gogurt line. Big whoop. You would have fought, and I would have just feigned respect until you came to your senses. (I'll never admit this to anyone, but I like your breaks of absurdity and the perfect pours of humuor in all the right places.)
If I were publishing this book, I wouldn't fuck with the text. I care about these poems. At some point while reading them, I felt absolutely safe, like nothing will ever be able to harm me. Wittgenstein had a similar experience, I've read. I might have encouraged you to write one really cruel poem. Have you ever written a truly cruel poem for an innocent, for someone who didn't even have it coming? Most poetry is the opposite of meanness, so it's refreshing to read something with hurtful intentions, something filled with hate that could send the targeted reader crying for a week. But that may have been a bad idea, and maybe we'd have just skipped it and stayed with what you got. PR-wise, you've got things handled. Having good taste is the most solid base for PR.
I wrote one cruel poem in my first book – it was overwhelmingly sincere and very amateur. The person I directed it toward said she vomited after reading it. I still love that.
This book is definitely more put-together. It's me at my best right now. PR-wise I definitely feel good about it. I've had the most fun with this book out of any other I've worked on. Mira's was great, but filming this trailer in Baltimore and launching the book at Webster Hall were both game-changers for me. So much of what's good about publishing a book has nothing at all to do with the book. The main reason I publish books is to see what kind of shit I can do after.
Uh, that wasn't a question.
We're supposed to be in such a conversational flow by now that you just respond by your own volition about why you like to publish books or something.
Oh, are we? I guess you arrived at this decision by yourself. That's independent. You're growing up.
List me ten ways that you think writing will improve your life. Go!
God, don't overthink it.
So presumptuous. I was doing things. There was a spider and I had to be really stressed out at it for a while.
1. Writing has helped me find my last four girlfriends.
2. It has helped me find my last four breakups.
3. It has helped me excuse my worst tendencies.
4. Writing makes my dick look bigger.
5. Writing, on other days, makes my dick look pathetic.
6. It's easier than learning instruments or going to law school.
7. It applies to all jobs but garners none.
8. Basically anything becomes "a part of it".
9. I work at a bicycle shop.
10. Writing 100 percent hasn't improved my life.
I want to hang out in your backyard.
See, I did it again, the ending on a statement. Just reply with whatever you want. Pretend we're talking like normal. Get it?
OK, ask me some more shit about the book. I'm not 100 percent in love with the way you're trying to commandeer the direction of this interview. The idea is to do a backward interview where the author interviews the reader (me) about their reading experience. Now stick to the rules, piss-ant.
That better be included. What were your honest expectations going into the thing? Seems fitting I need to be told to plug my book more.
I never read your bear book, so I hadn't really read anything by you except your tweets, which have been known to make my heart sing once or twice. I guess I can say I wasn't expecting it to be such a great collection, but wasn't surprised at all when I was wrong. We've only hung out a handful of times, but I have to say, I don’t think you are like what you write that you're like. You always seem happy. You laugh and are generally gregarious and warm to make people feel comfortable. So the shyness and loneliness I read about didn't match up with the physical Spencer. The one who lives in Brooklyn. The one who runs Sorry House. The one whose neck, after going for a jog, smells like sweet vidalia onions.
Spencer's new collection of poems
I feel surprised that you of all people didn't read A Million Bears. I can't imagine a title that would entice you more.
I've encountered people who express a disconnect between the self I write about and the self I present before. In 2010, when I was beginning to meet the writers I was interacting with online, some felt betrayed by the disparity. There was a phase where Haters called my sadness affect, and the topic of my depression a gimmick. I found it pretty disappointing that the expectation for sad people is to present sadness all the time. My desire to be outgoing and to make people feel comfortable with my presence doesn't contradict feeling sad – it's a result of it. I wouldn't work so hard to make other people like me if I liked myself. When you meet someone you are meeting the end product of years of struggle. You are meeting the self that has been revamped over and over, the self that has looked and sounded and acted and felt different a million times already, attempting to become something impossible. When you shake hands with someone you are meeting that failure. I guess that's why I like to write (for any and all future interviews that begin with "Why do you write?" which they all fucking do).
Do you think having read my book will affect the way you view me in the future?
I totally agree with and understand you on this. I was once in a bar with a fortune teller in the corner. I let her read my fortune because I was bored, and she then proceeded to describe my life to me in vivid detail. It was insane. But one thing that she really nailed was describing my life as a constant cocoon/butterfly/recocooning. She told me that when I go out socially, I am really "turned up" and gregarious and good at making people feel comfortable. But the reason for this is that when I am alone, I am sort of in a "recharging" state, or cocoon, which can feel like intense depression and sadness. She said to help me through these times, I should try thinking of it as "recharging", and I've done that and it kind of helps. Plus, I've always felt like it's extremely selfish to bring all of your sadness and baggage out into public and dump it all over people. There's nothing wrong with occasionally sharing it with a friend, but I keep my downs to myself. So, we're a lot alike, me and you. :)
Can I send my parents your way? Promise me you won't do the “here's coke on a silver platter” thing.
Sure, send them over.
Let's play a game of This or That.
Gotta go with That. I remember reading this (That) and laughing really hard. It works on so many levels. The juxtaposition of the “exotic" French girl in a sports bar is genius. And maybe it touches me because one of the last movies I cried at was the final scene of Be Kind, Rewind, when they are showing the movie. It's not particularly sad, but the music that they play just made me start bawling (now I listen to this song all the time). I do like This as well, though. Both good. Give me another.
Playing that song now. Here is another. Feel free to get really subjective with this one.
Gotta go with That. If only for the line about being lonely like others are left-handed. That's really good. Honestly, though, while still good, these are two of my least favourite. You sure you want to rep your book with these? Oh well, too late now.
I'm only as strong as my weakest page. Was my stupid face in the back of your mind the whole time you were reading my book? Did you try to separate me from my words, or take the words as they are?
I like that first line: "I'm only as strong as my weakest page." Is that yours? No, your face wasn't in the back of my mind. My face was. Your poems are like these things that the reader feels like they are coming from within him. Like he is writing them as he reads them.
I can't completely separate art from the artist, but I sure do try. I mean, I can always look at a piece of art without thinking about the life of the artist, but then I can think about the artist if I choose to. Two different things, I think. Like I wouldn't be able to enjoy Chet Baker if I every time I played him I thought about him beating all those women.
I think this interview is great; it's really funny. We need a better ending, though. How about: "Picture yourself hungry and naked. How would you blurb my book?"
OK. If that were the case I would blurb it as such: "Here I find myself hungry and naked, but as long as I have this book of Spencer Madsen's poetry with me, I discover that I need neither food nor clothes. It's true what they say: "You can live off of beauty."
How is that for an ending? Too cheesy?
Honestly, I like that. Seems sincere/vulnerable in a self-reflexive/ironic interview. I think it's great.
Oh, good. Guess we're done now. Hey, it's been real, babe. Thanks for participating and for being a good sport.
Giancarlo DiTrapano is a longtime contributor to this website and publisher of Tyrant books, an independent literary press based out of Hell’s Kitchen. Follow him on Twitter.
Follow Spencer Madsen on Twitter.