Dirk Stratton Interviews
William Gillespie

...death of the author...

William, since arriving at this cabin in Fox Ridge State Park and being repeatedly accosted by a very territorial redwinged blackbird (by overhead cawing only, not by beak or claw—yet) I’ve discovered that I frequently have the urge to walk through the blackbird’s territory in order to provoke its frantic response. Should I be concerned about this desire to tease a creature of the woodland wild?

The blackbird, Dirk, whether or not you will admit it, has you on the run. Let’s face facts and not fuck with the blackbird’s zone.

You have written “the record is my favorite art form.” Please explain the rationale behind this declaration.

The 2-record concept album known as the rock opera Tommy, which I don’t like very much, combines visual art, writing, and music. It was also tied to a stage performance by the Who, and then a motion picture, which then had its own soundtrack album. And then wasn’t there another stage production? And wasn’t there then a coffeetable book? So if that concept album had a concept, that concept was explored fairly thoroughly. The concept album is an early form of electric literature. But mostly I love rock.

...the least photographed barn in America...

William, I have also noted that when I retreat to the woods behind the cabin to take a leak and I see an ant scurrying below that I aim my piss stream at the ant, generally harassing the poor creature with a very localized and

   m o/b il(e

If there is a God, do you think She’d consider this a sin? If so, a mortal sin? Or the other kind? And if there isn’t a god, do you think I’m amassing huge amounts of negative karma by peeing on an ant?

I wish our government undertook some fraction of your moral searching.

Since this interview is for an e-zine, William, let’s discuss your relationship with electronic literature. If I’m not mistaken, when I first met you, you were rather dismissive of electronic literature, even curmudgeonly, muttering about the superiority of the book and hurrumphing over that puerile stuff being written on computers, ephemeral, you fumed, bah. Since then you’ve become well-versed in the use of computers, you make your living as a webmaster, you’ve done freelance work for an organization that promotes electronic literature (an organization, one should recall, that wouldn’t have even existed but for a hypertext novel you helped to write, which makes you, in part, responsible for the founding of said organization), you founded Newspoetry, an on-line alternative (poetic) news site, you’ve contributed articles to e-critizines (at least one of which was composed in hypertext) as well as an article about e-lit for a special issue of Poets & Writers, you’ve been the author or co-author of several “literary” hypertexts, some of which have won or almost won awards, one of which has been deemed to be, by those in the know, a hypertext “classic” (whatever that means), and finally, you’ve started an independent publishing house which has as one of its missions the promotion and sale of electronic literature. Is my summary of the issue in question accurate, William? Has your relationship with electronic literature changed? Do you have a future together? Have you talked about combining households? Is there a wedding in the offing? If so, at what department store have you established your gift registry?

Dirk, I’m sorry. I know how unpleasant I can be when I get to harrumphing in a grudging or cumudgeonly fashion. But you exaggerate. Before ever adhering the notion electronic to the notion of literature, back in 1996, when we were still calling it hypertext, I composed a Webwork entitled Table of Forms. What I suppose is bothersome is the thought that the adjective electronic might change the value of the noun literature. Superfluous adjectives drain nouns of meaning: “I am opposed to violent war.”See Parenti.

False dichotomies aside, let’s make some practical distinctions:

The electronic text editor facilitates searching, revision, and replication. The Internet facilitates research and collaboration, and as a distribution method outrivals any other. Electronic literature can incorporate extensive texts, automation, sound, and color without significant added expense, and can offer searchability, means of annotation, and excerpting. Paper and ink is (still) a superior platform for extended reading, precise and stable design, intimacy, and context (you can encounter paper anywhere but with electronic literature the context is almost always a computer). Electronic publishing is less expensive than print. I don’t know which is worse for the environment: books powered by electricity or books made of harvested trees. And we won’t know which is more enduring within our lifetimes: we were both born before the desktop computer existed and we were in grad school when the Web became ordinary. But the book has been around for centuries. There even exist individual books that have been around for centuries. I once touched a piece of paper that was printed in 17th-Century Italy. There are no 2-record sets or websites that have survived from 17th-Century Italy.

By the way, you shouldn’t refer to the Iowa Review Web as an “e-zine” That’s a double contraction, an unpleasant neologism, and nobody has hyphenated an e since 2001. The Iowa Review Web is an academic journal.

...proliferation of gold...

William, this campground reminds me of a series of nature poems called “laiku” that I wrote years ago. Thinking about laiku made me want to write one. So I did. Here it is.

    slice of      moon
      the      horizon
 at                      first
but                         even
not    an orange                 slice
but    a
    slice of  lemon
     -ing                   the    ice tea
    which        becomes                 clearer
                          as                   paler
 it               climbs
     Fireflies move in the darkness
     Specks of light ripple on a black pond
     Orchestral orgy 
     Some dance some carve
     A distant flicker of almostlightning 
     Troubles the stratosphere
     Night exhales cool shooting stars
     Bowl of woods

William Gillespie’s writing is:

   E) All of the above.
   A) Marr/ked by formal experimentation
   B) Leaks utopian yearning
   C) Worthy of criticism
   D) Not always funny

Among your many friends and admirers, you are famous for writing assignments. What’s the latest assignment you’ve come up with?

The latest assignment I’ve come up with? Well, while we were listening to the Resident’s Commercial Album during the 30-lines-in-30-minutes writing exercise two nights ago, I jotted down the following idea, based conceptually on the Fibonacci Sequence:

Write a poem in which every line
uses one word from each of 
the two previous lines of the poem. 

For a touch of class, of course, you could make the first line contain one word from each of the last two lines. There’s all kinds of fun you can have writing!

What assignment do you use most frequently?

The exercise I use the most frequently is the 30-minute freewrite. The rule of the 30-minute freewrite is this: write for 30 minutes. If you are having trouble writing, write at least 1000 words.

What’s your favorite writing assignment of all time?

20-Consonant Poetry.

Give us a short history of how you came to be enamored of such things.

A publication in purple mimeograph, stapled in the top left corner, entitled Poetry by the Fourth Grade. I had writer’s block until I was 8, Mrs. Keith helped me out of it.

Why do you like the Oulipo?

To me the Oulipo is devoid of mystique: it is set up to make its ideas as easy-to-steal as possible, even across different languages.

Who is your favorite poet? Why?

My favorite poet is Jackson Mac Low, because he usually has a formal idea, the formal idea is usually new, and he usually explains it. He is devoid of mystique, a human laboratory openly conducting valuable poetic research.

Who is your favorite fiction writer? Why?

My favorite fiction writer is Italo Calvino, whose books also tend to have distinct formal ideas. Although most of his books are composed of short stories, they are story cycles, rather than anthologies. His books are concept albums.

What are your favorite poems and your favorite fictions?

The Hunting of the Snark, Bad History, Imagine the Angels of Bread, The Orangery, What the President Will Say and Do, Suttree, Hopscotch, Wittgenstein’s Mistress, Angels, Triptich, Metempsychosis, Proofs, Dog Soldiers.

Who is your favorite painter?

Remedios Varo.

What’s your favorite poetry movement? If you were to start a movement, what would it be called and what would its manifesto include?

20-Consonant Poetry.

...jumble of yellow...

What role does music play in your writing?

Songs are central to my understanding of language. Symphonies inspire larger architectures. Experimental music foreground new formal ideas: efforts to follow rules yet unrecognizable to the ear. 20-Consonant Poetry, for example, was an idea translated from 12-Tone Music. Plus you gotta dance.

Tell us the story behind The Story That Tells You How To Write It. What experiments were you testing in that laboratory?

In TSTTYHTWI, I was trying to formally structure various elements of a short story. Rather than just “write from the gut” or “put the characters in a room together and see what they do,” I composed a score and then performed it onto paper. With overdubbing. The finished product was a book with a story recto and an essay verso. One of the methods I used to structure the story was to define the characters’ personalities by mapping the metaphors that were central to their understanding of the world. For example, one character understands a monogamous relationship as freedom, while another understands it as confinement.

William, you relentlessly take material from your life, from the most heart-rending breakup to the most mundane stop for gas at a dying gas station...


It’s the weekend before July 4th and brutally hot outside, 101 degrees, and we’re on our way to Fox Ridge. I enjoy writing in the passenger seat of the air-conditioned car so much that I accidentally let Dirk drive us an hour past our destination. Then I instructed him to turn around and drive back the other way for an hour. Meanwhile, I type and type, and Dirk drives.



But Dirk will exact his subtle revenge. At the dilapidated truck stop in southern Illinois, as the sweltering cars of holiday vacationers queue up to suck gas from the few unbroken pumps, while I type, Dirk fills the tank and then disappears into the gas station with the keys. Cars are honking at me as I sit here typing in the car that is blocking one of the only working pumps. Through the window I see Dirk inside shopping with the utmost leisure, thoughtfully collecting armloads of truckers caps, plastic sunglasses, gaudy or depressing postcards, four-dollar country-and-western cassettes, and a case of Red Bull. It is as though this truck stop is an exotic bazaar the likes of which he has never seen. As I wrote that sentence he reappeared, got into the driver’s seat, got out again, and when I hit the period and looked up he was nowhere to be seen. He is back inside making more purchases, The sweating southern Illinois holiday drivers behind me lean on their horns, their faces are angry and they are gesticulating, but Dirk has the keys and is shopping.

Bad gas station coffee blues
This shack’s fans don’t work
Churning the flies around
My stomach feels like a bad part
That needs to be replaced
The splintered paneled walls lean in
Trees stand beneath accusing sun
The cluttered bunks sag
Here is my home for three nights

...and turn it into literature. Sometimes it seems that you only continue to live in order to have something to write about and that your writing is simply an ongoing exercise in autobiography as practiced by someone whose Real/Surreal Defibulation Modulator Intake/Output Valve is seriously in need of adjustment. And yet, as personal as your writing is, I never get irritated like I do when I read most “confessional” writing, because your writing doesn’t seem personal. In other words, apparently you have solved one of the major conundrums writers face: you write what you know (i.e. your life) but it doesn’t seem self-indulgent, but often almost “universal” (to invoke a hoary value I’m sure you’re suspicious of). How do you manage to pull off this trick time and time again? Would you care to comment on this aspect of your writing? If not, why don’t you just beat me with a rake and get it over with?


But seriously, when I found out that William Vollman got dropped off at the North Pole in order to write a book that wasn’t even about himself being dropped off at the North Pole I had to rethink everything. I try to write about what I know but now also try to know what I write about. Sadly, I am not story material, so I surgically remove subject matter from my life, translating it into fiction. As must to some extend everyone who writes fiction or lies.

I was wondering, William, does being surrounded by fireflies after dark, as we are here at Fox Ridge, ever make you wonder what it would be like to have a massive bioelectrochemical lightbulb instead of buttocks?



What one-syllable word? What two syllable word? What three syllable word?

Weird, mirthful, subversive.

I know you have many projects in progress, and that you continue to think up new ones all the time. Describe the project you’re most desirous of completing. What’s the problem? Anything we can do?

Keyhole Factory. Let me use your house or cabin, give me feedback on my drafts, help Spineless Books, smile, write.

Explain to the good folks, William, why you like to collaborate so much. What is your philosophy of collaboration?

Like creative expression through language, social interaction is a basic human need. My philosophy of collaboration is that, if I like solution A, and you like solution B, and we have reasons for our preferences (other than pride or stubbornness), then we can take those reasons and find solution C, which neither of us would have figured out on our own. Credit collaborators equally by default. The method of collaboration is more important than the talent or prestige of the individuals involved. Collaboration can be fun, like a party or vacation or camping trip—it can be done with a celebratory and decadent flair. I am hesitant to collaborate with someone I have never met in person. Collaboration is friendly or else employment.


I allow spiders to spin their webs in my bathroom and I am careful not to disturb them, if at all possible. Yet, I get extremely irate when I see a cockroach in my sink and I’ll use the toilet plunger to smash it into goo. Does this denote rank prejudice on my part or do you think my reaction is perfectly understandable?

Dirk, maybe you aren’t the foreign policy genius for which I earlier mistook you.

Politics, William, politics. Tell us about the role of politics in your writing and the role of writing in your politics.

We live in a world in which staggering disparities of wealth are protected by violence. I would like to wonder toward a world in which wealth is distributed equitably without violence and social organization is designed toward sustainably meeting the needs of all humans.

Among artists who are distracted by considerations as tangential to their career as the well-being of other people, I notice three ideas:

1. Making art is already political. With exceptions like The Who, many artists make no significant money from their art. Going to trouble and expense to do something whose primary purpose is not to amass wealth is certainly at odds with a capitalist society, whether or not it seriously undermines it.

2. Art can criticize society, including highly profitable motion pictures.

3. Art can be Utopian. While art can be a useful tool to depict reality, it is an exemplary tool to depict fantasy. Art can offer something to hope for.

And speaking of politics, do you think I should be allowed to use the handicapped shower stall without guilt because I have a hearing loss that requires hearing aids?

I don’t think guilt is necessarily political, but, even if you aren’t allowed to use the handicapped shower stall without guilt, at least you won’t hear that guy in the wheelchair yelling and pounding on the door because you’ll have taken out your hearing aids in order to shower.


Talk to us about Newspoetry.

Newspoetry is a collaborative online writing project founded by me and run by the rakish Joe Futrelle since the Y2K apocalypse. Its mission is to publish a poem a day about events in the news, and to give us a reason to read the newspaper. Founded as a broadside newspaper with a circulation of roughly three, distributed anonymously through tip jars, bathroom walls, and newspaper machines, Newspoetry was initially a vehicle for my particular personal politics, and was neither compromising nor lucid, but as a collaborative website Newspoetry is nonpartisan and accepts unsolicited electronic submissions of interesting newspoetry from any political perspective. It persists as my favorite online writing project, though other favorites come and go.

Why are The Soft Boys your favorite musical group?

The Soft Boys are my favorite musical group because they are the best band ever. And I have plenty more tautologies where that came from.


Tell us a little about Spineless Books and what you hope to accomplish as a publisher.

Spineless Books is an independent publishing house dedicated to the production and distribution of innovative literature in print and electronic forms with an emphasis on collaboration, formal experimentation, and utopian thought. We hope to publish good writing for the next decade or three.

A reader of your work wrote in his rejection letter that you had “genius-itis”—what  the hell does that mean? Do you agree?

People who aren’t jaded professional creative writers probably don’t know this, but getting a rejection letter that is openly critical of you or your work (as opposed to a massproduced slip) is actually a good thing. It doesn’t feel good, but it is a good thing. Genius-itis is clearly a disease of some sort. It sounds horrible. I am probably not qualified to diagnose my own genius-itis, suffering, as I do, from it. The term was applied to me by the wonderful R.M. Berry at FC2, whose work also appears in the Iowa Review Web, and whose “Metempsychosis”was, in fact, highly indirectly responsible for you and I meeting, Dirk, because the story was published by FC2 which, along with Dalkey Archive and American Book Review, was at ISU where I thus went and met Scott Rettberg, the writer who introduced you to me, because he noticed that you and I both use the same style of notebook and pen, and will pause to jot things down with a casual oblivion toward our social setting. In fact, as I recall, the first day we met, we didn’t speak, and just sat opposite one another writing in our notebooks.

Yes, it was a strange introduction. I remember Scott frantically explaining to me (as he probably explained to you), that I shouldn’t take your silence personally. I’m glad we finally managed to talk. Answer a question I’ve neglected to ask.

bridge in summer leaves/on which i fly a straight line/over a culvert...

balance, move forward
steadily in a straight line
don’t think of falling

thanks for your friendship

You’re welcome.

...inverted kitty...

William Gillespie is as old as the Unix operating system and the rock opera “Tommy.” He lives in Urbana, hosts the radio show Eclectic Seizure, and runs Spineless Books.

Dirk Stratton is currently finishing a Ph.D. at the University of Cincinnati, and teaches creative writing at the School for the Performing and Creative Arts. He is as old as the first commercial magnetic disk assembly: a collection of 50 discs, each two feet in diameter, weighing a ton. Around the time Dirk was born, a bill was proposed to Congress to ban rock and roll in the United States.

here > there


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