Talking

Can you noodle a synth?


Dostoyevsky Wannabe's love-affair with Glasgow continues unabated as we talk to Spam Zine about all things vaporwave, post-internet, forming a co-op to sell poetry from a tin and erm...noodling synths.

A Spam Zine mail out making poetry cool again.

Please tell us straight away how SPAM began? Is there a founding myth of the type we might otherwise read about as to how a band might have started?

Denise and Maebh decided to start SPAM because none of the poetry or literature publications they saw around resembled what living in the 21st century is actually like (i.e. immersed in internet ectoplasm). Doing or promoting good literature also always seemed to go hand in hand with taking oneself *very* seriously, which we weren’t comfortable with; poetry publications especially seemed very conservative, dusty, and quite predictable in all honesty. So we thought - let’s just do it ourselves (classic cardinal signs - Cancerian and Capricorn).

We wanted the publication to be experimental (in the sense of a mutable place in which 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).

Next thing you know, Denise and Maebh are bribing a cobbler on Glasgow’s Byres road to let us use his hand-crank sewing machine (shout out Phoenix Multi Service Ltd) to stitch 100 copies of SPAM 1, its 48 pages all photocopied using about 10 incredibly noisy printers in the Glasgow University Library, pissing off poor souls trying to study for their exams. And all this thanks to Jason Macphail of Voidoid Archive (since it’s time for shout outs) who funded this whole insane endeavour out of pure love for the arts. And we’re still going; who would have thought.

Who are you? Who does what? Or do you all do a bit of everything?

SPAM was founded by Denise Bonetti and Maebh Harper, but the editorial team now consists of Denise, Max Parnell and Maria Sledmere. Denise and Max met studying English Literature at the University of Glasgow. Maria submitted to our issue #2, ‘Glitch’, when she saw a mention of Tom McCarthy in the call for subs. Tom McCarthy, it’s a very poorly-kept secret, is probably our collective favourite novelist (one year, we toyed with the idea of selling Satin Island-themed postcards for Valentines). We could listen to him talk about repetition, glitches and Mallarmé all day in those sultry tones, which could make ASMR of like glossing Derrida. We should probably all get tattoos with that non-word buried in Remainderrecidual. After realising they had both written or were writing their dissertations on ol’ Tom, Denise knew Maria’s vision of the world would align with SPAM’s. We published Max’s pamphlet of tasty meal deal poems, And no more being outdoors / And no more rain in 2017 and he quickly joined the team after that.

Tom if you’re reading this plz hit us up we’d love to talk business <3 

As it stands, we’ve had a funny sort of summer with everyone busy with academic commitments (Max finishing a novel for his master’s dissertation, Maria doing her PhD) or travelling the world on a motorbike, Kathy Acker style (Denise). Still, we’ve kept busy. A lot of the actual editing work is shared, and everything we do is based on shared values about what kinds of poetry we want to publish, what borders of genre, form, modality and identity we want to challenge and what themes we want to focus on. We used to get together and read all our zine submissions in cafés or the uni library, much to the chagrin or amusement of everyone around us. Nowadays we’re more dispersed (this year we were based between Glasgow and Cambridge) so we tend to organise and discuss submissions via google sheets, facebook chat or Skype. 

Frankly, we all do a bit of everything (especially email), but loosely Denise is kind of the creative director and editrix-in-chief. Maria handles most of the online content and promotion, including SPAM Cuts and other nonfiction work. Max is in charge of deliveries and distribution. Certain responsibilities such as event organisation and editorial supervision just depend on who’s around. However, we all chip in with the poetry side and the themes for each issue are teased out collaboratively. Being on the same page from day one is probably what’s given the project longevity. It’s good that we can feed our individual work and interests into the kinds of publishing and curatorial roles we have at SPAM. We’re all interested in the intersection between technology and literature. Max branches out into A.I and translation, Denise into time, space and mediation and Maria into anything anthropocene

Why the name SPAM?

We loved the idea of starting a magazine for the leftovers, the rubbish, the things that normally get filtered out and no one has room for. Email spam is that, but it’s also very much a post-internet concept, a corollary of information overload (which we’re all about). It’s also a brand name, of course, and as editors we’re all fascinated with today’s corporatespeak, the corporate textual detritus that submerges us all. We contemplated ‘JUNK’ at some point - but wow, I’m so glad we didn’t go for it in the end. Can you imagine being marked with the promise of such testosterone (dry heaves).

Spams in one of their many natural habitats.

Your sporty Astroturf issue seemed very Vaporwavey in how it looked, in a good way. Sometimes it was like reprinted tweets and images that seemed a bit pixelated. Is that an ok thing to say and what do you make of Mallsoft?

That’s so interesting you say the AstroTurf issue is kinda vaporwavey. It’s cool to think of what a post-sports future might look like -- would it mean civic decay or the chance for more raves? We were kind of interest in collisions between poetry and sport. There’s this old Camarade performance where Sam Riviere kind of chastises Joe Dunthorne for his sporty prowess. Joe replies with this line about how Sam presented him with ‘new experimental work that made me feel sad’. That felt like the perfect intersection of the worlds of sport and post-internet.

Our third issue, back in 2017, was actually called Vape or Dream. It was really fun, we launched it at The Poetry Club and Total Leatherette did this incredible set. We’ve probably never packed out the venue for a launch quite like that night! I (Maria) remember reading a love poem for Cassie from Skins, wearing a pink sequin dress and crimped hair teased to the sun. SPAM basically make very little distinction between high and low culture, and in that sense vaporwave is kind of our next of kin. It’s rich pickings for thinking through the high theories of hauntology and Marxist critique, but it’s also just this super basic music genre that stations itself in ruined shopping malls. Part of our ethos is obviously that DIY thing, which vaporwave taps into. One of our favourite poets, Dan Power, once made a vaporwave remix of Robbie Williams’ ‘Millennium’. He’s now written a three-part thesis on post-internet poetry, meme culture and vaporwave aesthetics, which we published on the website. Maria’s also written this long, rambling essay about vaporwave which you can read here. Being millennials, we suffer that vague, misplaced nostalgia for the virtual plazas of what we might think is the eighties but is actually just a casino zone in Sonic the Hedgehog or something. Small towns where the shopping centre is now a post-recessional relic of vape shops, corrupted sound systems and dodgy jewellers. We still go in there to take photos and mourn our lost youth. So mallsoft is maybe kind of comforting, but probably a little lowkey for us. I guess we’re pretty big fans of artists who came from the early vaporwave days though, especially Oneohtrix Point Never or something. At a SPAM launch, you can expect everything from like trashy pop to IDM. Mostly it’s just about the theme, not the genre. 

Also is Vaporwave and Mallsoft pretty much the latest (we say latest but that ship has already sailed probably) incarnation of looking back to uncanny past of the 1980s to make art? In the 90s people did that with Library music excavated from like the 1950s and 1960s and probably other people did it with other things for centuries before that so maybe it’s a good tactic. 

Aye, probably (see above). The next step is to think about what a hauntology of the noughties will look like. Scene kid hauntology is what, hello kitties floating in a sea of XD faces while Oli Sykes screams in the floating flarfy html junk text of MySpace? Ed Sheeran and Rupi Kaur in a giant hip hop cut up, slowed to trap remix with Trump slogans vomiting google deep dream faces buried in pasta? Plz send poem. 

Spam and chips.

On the overall style of the SPAMs that we have seen, the style changes quite often. Some of the SPAM Press books are kinda straightforward and ziney but then thing suddenly get quite horizontal and Swiss graphic design modernist in the one for Loll Junggeburth’s pamphlet. Is the physical form and design of a SPAM pamphlet important to you, there definitely seems to be some intention there that differs across publications?

Yes, the form and design are important to us. We’re all varying degrees of perfectionists, but we love a deadline and ultimately, with the zines, the ‘urgency’ of just ‘getting it out there’ to some extent dictates where the layout ends up. We used to do the layouts on the uni’s library computers, on Microsoft Publisher. If Maria got asked to do a spread, she’d do it, painstakingly, on one of those free image editing programmes that crash all the time. We’d have all sorts of trouble with resolution etc! (Shout out to all the online pdf-merging software out there). Things are a lot smoother now, and we work with more professional software, especially with the pamphlets.

It’s interesting you flag up Loll’s pamphlet as a counterexample to the usual SPAM aesthetic. It was the first pamphlet that Maria and Max were kind of ‘in charge of’ after Denise moved to Cambridge for her Masters. She was gone five minutes and already we were doing this whole modernist/industrial thing, both of us dressed in black polo-necks for the launch and talking about the new Autechre releases. 

Basically though, with the zines we just want to have fun with it. There’s kind of a thrill or dissonance in putting those Web 2.0 architectures and aesthetics on the black-and-white, lofi page. With the pamphlets, we’re more attuned to what the poems demand. When we release pamphlets as a series, we like to have some consistency; but with one-off releases it’s nice to go with a more unique aesthetic, like putting an album out into the world. Recently, for example, we published Daisy Lafarge’s capriccio and commissioned designer/artist Ane Lopez for the cover and typesetting because we wanted it to be a beautiful object, but also faithfully playful to the title. Anna Danielewicz also released her pamphlet, An orca is way too big to attach, unless as a JPEG, with us back in June. She’s an artist and did all the design herself, and we were happy to more or less just let her do that because the form and aesthetic were so integral to the curation and expression of the poems themselves. A similar thing happened with Sam Riviere’s amazing Darken PDF and Ryan Jarvis’ Tesseract Life, whose labyrinthine design you could get lost in for days. 

For reasons best known to ourselves at Dostoyevsky Wannabe, we were pleased with the line “haha abebooks is owned by amazon” in Denise Bonetti’s pamphlet (a blue one) and overall we really enjoyed that pamphlet and found we could read it left to right and from the top to the bottom of the page and also read it backwards from back to front and from bottom to top and different readings emerged. It had the requisite mix of everyday detritus from Bergson (‘I have only been able to attack Bergson not you’) to Hugo Boss (‘Eyes on the road pal I’m no Hugo boss’). Is this something you look for in the poetry that SPAM publishes? It’s not all abstract nouns and birds flying in from Cumbria but nor does is seem merely tied to a city location either. We just tried to make a question out of this but really there is no question in this really is there? Feel free to make one up and answer it.

 In semi-rhizomatic fashion, see answer to question 11. :) 

A Spam Daisy Lafarge found on rocky terrain.

Is SPAM informed by DIY/indie culture or sick of the idea of DIY/indie culture or very enamoured with DIY/indie culture? 

It’s funny, I don’t think we ever had the ‘indie culture’ chat at any point. We just ‘did it’. Obviously we’ve always been tightly involved in Glasgow’s indie scene from the start, in that we’re friends with a lot of those bands (Kaputt, Pocket Knife, Faiides, Savage Mansion, Pleasure Pool, Double Discone, Codist, Decent Sweets, The Lawnmower -- to name a few) and booked them for our launches. So it was always mutually supportive in that way. And we’ve relied on support in kind from our venue The Poetry Club, who also like the fact we can sell out their club space on like a Wednesday and Thursday night. 

Maria was an occasional reader of NME back in the day and still does some freelance as a music journalist, mostly for fellow Glaswegians GoldFlakePaint: a music magazine which grew out of blog culture and is now a beautiful print publication that sells worldwide. Some of that, inevitably, feeds into SPAM. We’ve had musicians, for instance, write poems or experimental pieces for issues of our zine (look out for Cal Donnelly of Kaputt and Calum Macrae of Lanark Artefax). There’s a nice crossover of forms where we challenge what poetry is and who can do it. 

I think it’s important to mention in addition to indie we also veer towards more experimental and electronic stuff. We’ve booked Neurotrash, Arm Watches Fingers, Gross Net and Total Leatherette for our launches, which tend to bring in a slightly different crowd, and it’s great to see the variation in energy. I think the key thing has always been attracting poetry fans and music fans to the same space. A lot of people in Glasgow bands do English Lit at Glasgow Uni, or did in Max and Denise’s year. There’s just a general culture of literary and music crossover. Maybe because it rains so much we’re all just trapped inside, reading books or stapling zines or noodling synths. Can you noodle a synth, idk. 

We’re total Glasgow fetishists so we have to ask how does Glasgow shape what you do with SPAM Zine/Press? 

Glasgow is at the heart of SPAM, in that it’s where we started but also it’s where our ethos comes from. We were able to put out our first issue and run a launch night thanks to some generosity from local business owners and promoters, and it’s essentially that DIY, collaborative spirit that keeps us going -- everyone doing each other favours. Maybe there’s something of the city in the trashy spirit and humour of SPAM too, the sense that you really don’t know what to expect when you turn a page, just as anything could happen when you turn a street corner in town. We owe a lot to the poetry and indie scene here, who have always turned up to our launches and events and bought the books. I think that sense of embracing gimmick or not taking yourself too seriously has always been important to us. But also there’s the legacy and influence of experimental Glasgow poets like Edwin Morgan (who in a way was a kind of Web 1.0 poet), Peter Manson (who we had the total privilege of publishing in our Cruise Liner issue!) and Callie Gardner (who runs the amazing Zarf magazine — undeniable influence on us! — and poetry workshops at queer bookshop Category Is).

There’s a lot to say about the indie art scene in Glasgow too. We’ve all been involved in exhibitions and installations across the city: from Denise’s collaborative work at The Modern Institute to Max’s involvement in the Double Take exhibition at Glasgow School of Art to Maria’s work with A+E Collective and the RBMA-sponsored The Absent Material Gateway installation with Lanark Artefax. Although most of SPAM is the work of three people working very hard, we are constantly supported and inspired by artist friends and collaborators, not to mention the other writerly mentors and friends around us in Glasgow and its periphery -- Colin Herd (<3), Gloria Dawson, Elizabeth Reeder, Sophie Collins, Matt and Jess from Good Press, Dom Hale and Fred Carter (who run the v. exciting Just Not poetry series in Edinburgh), Sam Riviere and too many others to name.

While we’re firmly embedded in the city, SPAM has always seen itself as a ‘post-internet’ endeavour and thus in that sense enjoys a kind of unhinging from time and space. Or, something like being plugged into those lateral channels which allow people from the States to discover us, or orders and submissions to come in from all over the place. For better or worse, our home is on the gram as much as it is on the bookshelf. Poetry can happen anywhere, and other wholesome aphorisms. Denise lives in London now and Max travels for parts of the year, so we’re always looking for ways to reach out to new communities and work remotely together. It’s always such a joy and surprise when we find out someone from a different country has heard of us and supports the zine or press.

No shuttles, no lyric; badminton is so post-internet (at the launch of issue #9: astroturf)

There are SPAM events that come with many of your publications. Can you tell us about a few of these and how they tend to play out?

So from the start we’d have these big launches at The Poetry Club (part of SWG3 and owned by Turner prize winner Jim Lambie). Denise ended up managing the bar at the venue for a while! I would like to say our first launch was shambolic; but to be honest they still are. We just wanted our favourite strange acts for the launch of a strange magazine and so we did. We invited the Bin Men - a semi-serious (?) rap duo with catchy choons about KP snacks and student loans -, The Horse Whisperer aka Max Syed-Tollan (who makes beautiful music with keyboard presets, only using the lyrics ‘Quintessential Horse Whisperer In The Valley Of The Spectator’), and Space Cowboys from Brighton (‘for fan of concepts’). We DJ’d through youtube - and we still do. We commission a short film from renaissance man Taylor Stewart (of the Bin Men) every launch we do, and it always freezes cause the wifi in the venue is really bad. It’s a mess, but that’s our vibe. Since then we had a magician go live at midnight while everyone was smashed (Cruise Liner issue), we had a caricaturist, we had a raffle where you could win grass seed and Lynx (AstroTurf), we had a love booth (Vape or Dream), we had a tea station on the dancefloor and lanyards for everyone (Notes from the Watercooler). All this with blaring evil techno or PC music in the background. We have a high tolerance for cringe, basically.

One of our biggest launches was for Vape or Dream, when we got Total Leatherette to play. We always mix up the format, so it’s a club night but there’s something for everyone: poetry readings, film screenings, performances, bands and a dj to finish. Some folks come for the poetry and accidentally stay till 2am, disco winchin to happy hardcore or something. We have this habit of screening naff youtube videos on a projector in the background, so you might have the poet reading with say an office space walkthrough or Prom makeup prep montage in the background. It can get pretty weird: one time, for the Astral Projections and Talismanic Persuasions theme, we had all these aliens floating around for hours. Quentin Scobie (Le Servo de Spock) and Taylor Stewart (Romeo Taylor) are regular film contributors: their work is so strange and funny and working on maaany levels of irony or absurdity, but it’s also kind of sincere which is totally our vibe. We’ve also had caricature artists, tarot readings, romantic installations, football sweepstakes, a magic show, karaoke, beat the goalie, a musical (Mr Beige, by Neuro Trash)...

We try and get bands who tailor to the theme and then it’s kind of fun for everyone. For Notes from the Water Cooler, our office-themed issue #5, we got Gross Net from Belfast: ‘channels everything from Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Tesco Disco’, to the fear and futurism of the European Cold Wave [...]. Pairing dark and brutal rhythms with existential and world-weary themes, Gross Net is the sound of the post-Brexit dystopia of now, the antidote to the endless whitewash of indie groups in their matching Topshop outfits’. That was really sick! And then for Prom Date, we got Codist to headline and they did a really great kind of teen dream indie thing, dressing up in suits and even covering ‘Teenage Dirtbag’. We tend to have like a recommended dress code according to the theme and people really go for it, which we love. For Prom Date, there were so many folk in their original prom outfits and it was so wholesome. We obviously go wild with the decor as well, stringing up bunting or cutlery or sticking glow in the dark stars to the walls -- whatever the theme entails. It’s kind of gimmick praxis (stealing this term from Jo Walton) and everyone always appreciates the attention to detail. 

The other thing is SPAM is basically self-sustaining but not-for-profit, so we try to keep the entry cheap (£2/3) and you can get a zine on the door. 

In addition to the zine launches, we also have individual pamphlet launches. These have been hosted by the lovely Glasgow bookshops Category Is (one of only two LGBTQ+ bookshops in the UK!) and Good Press (mega shoutout!). We’ve also had a big launch at The Roebuck in London which went really well -- that was for our season 2 pamphlet launch. One of the most fun things we did was in association with Glasgow International festival in 2018. Inspired by SJ Fowler’s Enemies/Camarade events, it was called That’s Hot!: we put together pairs of poets with a working constraint and asked them to perform together. The constraints were things like ‘only use words from this Britney Spears video’, ‘only use words from this Kardashian book’. The results were incredible! Colin Herd and Kirsty Dunlop had audience percussion plus a harp-loop of ‘Oops I Did It Again’ and Michael Crowe and Jess Higgins were doing this live-writing thing on a huge piece of gauzy fabric. We had a sellout crowd as well and Glasgow Live even covered the event, billing it as an ‘Ultimate Noughties Poetry Night’... 

A couple of Spam service personnel (Maria and Max) selling all things Spam in Manchester at our Dostoyevsky Wannabe Indie Book Fair at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation.

Finally, what would it have been nice for us to have asked about that we haven’t? Are there any misconceptions about SPAM Zine/Press that you’d really like to put to rights?

The concept ‘post-internet’ is one key way in which we describe ourselves. It’s a peculiar term, one that I (Max) think I came to understand more through having to explain how I interpreted it than through referring to any one specific definition. I remember when Maria and myself were hosting a ‘post-internet poetry workshop’ as part of an initiative named Saturday School at Glasgow’s Civic House. We’d specifically chosen the post-internet theme as a way of creating a writing workshop that would be open to both well experienced writers and beginners alike. I think often even the term ‘poetry’ can seem intimidating to those who don’t write or are even just less experienced with the form. So, the idea was to host a workshop that was less about writing new material, and more focused on reshaping and reformulating ‘found’ text online. I think it’s fair to say all three of us have been influenced by Kenneth Goldsmiths’s notion of ‘uncreative writing’, the idea that innovative and exciting new forms of poetry can be created by working with text that’s already available, rather than attempting to write something ‘new’. This is apparent not only in some of the work we’ve each produced, but also in the work SPAM has published, such as Dan Power’s Predictive Text Poems. 

When it comes to explaining what ‘post-internet’ really means, I remember at the start of this workshop giving my interpretation, which is essentially writing that isn’t just about the internet but writing that speaks to the age of internet 2.0. When I think of the internet 2.0, I think of the ubiquitousness of the online world, the internet of things and the complete internalisation and assimilation of the internet into our contemporary lives. Most importantly, it signifies a world that is impossible to conceive of without the internet. I think that’s where the term ‘post’ comes from. Not to imply that we have moved beyond the internet or surpassed it, but that the internet as an entity is so integrated into daily life we scarcely think of it as the internet anymore. I think it’s similar to the way many academics speak of post-capitalism, or the way Fukuyama speaks of a post-ideological world coming with the fall of communism. These theories, rather than suggesting that capitalism has ended, recognise that as a force it has become so singular and all-pervasive in a globalised world that we’ve entered an age in which we’ve (almost) stopped thinking of it as an ideological apparatus at all. 

I think this is one of the areas where SPAM offers a platform for writing, both creative and ‘un-creative’, that looks to draw our attention to just some of the phenomena of life in a post-internet age. There’s sometimes the risk that writing of this type can become cynical or overly ironic in the message it looks to deliver. Whilst there’s fun to be had with poetry that looks to highlight the absurdity or irony of much of contemporary internet culture, we’ve found ourselves drawn to a new trend of writing that seems more aligned with the ideas of meta-modernism and the New Sincerity movement. That is, writing that oscillates between irony and sincerity, looking to strike a poetic balance between ironic humour and a genuine emotional response to many of the questions of our age. I think SPAM Cuts and our new focus on publishing essays has really helped with this. It’s come at a good time, soon after our three year birthday when we feel secure enough with the press’s identity to be able to  branch out from providing a platform solely for poetry, and start putting our efforts into creating an online platform for the exchange of ideas that relate (often loosely) to the questions posed by a post-internet age. 

Our publishing model is that we basically have open calls for pamphlets on the odd occasion and publish single author works in seasons. So, we’ve had season 1 (Dan Power, Denise Bonnetti, Maria Sledmere) and season 2 (Helen Charman, Alex Marsh, Robin Boothroyd, Audrey Lindemann) and season 3 is forthcoming (names still to be announced!). We also publish single-author pamphlets that have been submitted or solicited, from Calum Rodger’s Ports (a translation of famous twentieth-century poems into Playstation controls), to Dom Hale’s Time Zone to Sam Riviere’s Darken PDF and Loll Junggeburth’s Spiel :: Verstehen | Welt :: Gestalten. We like that we’re able to support the work of emerging writers and also more established poets -- it’s a total honour to publish everyone, tbh. Last summer did a one-off Unofficial Love Island anthology, co-edited by Denise and author Livia Franchini. That was pretty successful, so we’ve followed up with an Apprentice themed anthology, edited by Denise Bonetti, Alex Marsh and Max Parnell. Calls for submissions still open! 

One day our dream is to co-op the entire brand of SPAM and sell poetry from a tin, but maybe that sounds too Brexit. 

What next for SPAM? 

We’ve got a new season of pamphlets forthcoming in the winter, probably early 2020, plus we’re making plans for a SICK issue 10 bumper edition zine. Watch out for calls for submissions! 

We’ve also got some great content coming for the website: reviews and interview features. Always looking for new nonfiction and reviews contributors so do drop us a line (spamzine.editors[at]gmail.com) if you think you might have something interesting. 

Denise has a slick new job in London, Max is finishing his novel and planning to live in South Africa next summer and Maria is deep in the luxurious quagmire of her PhD, so everything SPAM fits around that. 

Thanks for talking to us Spam Zine. It's been a pleasure