(FEATURE) Letters from the Editors: Spring 2021
As April draws to a close, we find ourselves smack bang in the middle of SPAM's fifth birthday anniversary. Five years since we first splashed out issue #1 of the zine at The Poetry Club. Five years of #keepingithyperreal etc etc. To celebrate, our editors past and present have responded to the occasion in a series of letters, essays and other detritus of correspondence, pulled from the archive...
SPAM URL Sonata Presents Anniversary Interview with Special Guest!
What better way to kick off the 5 year celebrations than by welcoming on SPAM’s favourite anthropologist, C, to explain what SPAM means to them. Having made it along to so many of our Zoom launches over the last year, we were thrilled to invite C on to read from their dossier. Tune in to hear what happens when the narrating curser catches up with the rendering one, C’s musings on time and memory and the experience of being jammed in limbo.
always already beaching on a blur
because I prefer the surmise of Maps
to tell me what is [here!] and [there!]
once was soft blurring my blemishes
now I branch back to homestead
and there’s nothing left of any face
goldfish bowl, thinking orb
wilderness dead line, slack
into storied palm tree
what a cartographic headache
impose blue flotilla on mind’s eye
was it Maps or was it memory?
have I been here with you? people
stiff jaw under that neural network?
I swim low vision to rewrite the road
whose grit premise translated my knee
into scar tissue, kiss of the “real world”
I’m a lamprey for that fresh air romance
but bless the web I’m tangled in
a few touches away from Return
by Alice Hill-Woods
<<<TRAVERSING THE PLAZA: FOUR LETTERS>>>
Part of this text was originally presented at Manifold Symposium's 'Experimental Publishing' conversation
Enter The Plaza
In her essay ‘Time in the Codex’, Lisa Robertson writes: ‘[i]t is the most commodious sensation I can imagine, this being lost’. Commodious means both roomy, comfortable and convenient. SPAM Plaza came to life in 2017 with the intention of servicing the small press poetry community with a space of generous response and lively critical conversation. From Glasgow, SPAM had been operating for two years already as a poetry zine and micro-press, and during this time we realised our readers, contributors and editorial team were in the process of theorising what ‘post-internet’ could mean in both theory, politics and poetic practice. From our relative marginalisation in Scotland we wanted to forge a DIY environment with a wide roster of contributors, a quick publishing turnover time and an emphasis on the contemporary. As SPAM HQ itself becomes more spatially distributed (we currently operate between Glasgow/London/Berlin), we welcome international contributions, envisioning the Plaza as a site of dissolving borders and tangled contours, where works and poetry scenes from many places might come into conversation.
Part of this impetus is captured in our journal’s name: SPAM Plaza. Plaza meaning a public square, an open area, a place to sit and contemplate. The first review we ever published was Denise Bonetti’s take on Michael Crowe’s An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in GTA Online, which shifts Perec’s experiment from a Parisian Square to the virtual world of Grand Theft Auto Online. We were also attracted to ‘plaza’ through its valence within vaporwave art, which namechecked the ‘virtual plaza’ from its historic use by software companies of yore to boost a sense of the internet’s friendly, sociable vibe. A lot of the work we publish responds to the millennial experience of the internet’s shift from the hyperscapes of Web 1.0 to the ubiquity of Web 2.0. As Mau Baiocco succinctly puts it in a review of Dom Hale’s poem ‘The Noughties’: ‘At some point in our lifetime a transition occurred between accessing a resource and living through its infrastructure’. The Plaza is both a sincere and ironic nod to that dream of a commons accessed online. It’s not that we think poetry criticism can save the world, but we are committed to the conversation, and the ethical imperative to share and engage with work we feel is important. The post-internet is our organising concept, the ambient interest that runs through all we publish. It’s a term we are vibrationally attuned to, but feel is constantly expanding as the work of our contributors pushes at the aesthetic, ethical and political possibilities of cultural production in this moment.
Wtf is post-internet?
During a long-overdue migration from our former home on Tumblr, we started pasting together a scrapbook that might answer this question, or maybe just expand it. Let’s call it a collage of possibility, not a manifesto. We’d delved into Legacy Russell’s compelling Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto (2020), rinsed the metamodern manifesto, contemplated altermodernism, consumed enough ‘vapourwave is dead’ memes to satisfy the cultural necrophilia of our age. Manifesto implied something new and suddenly we didn’t need to be that brazen, although we appreciate the valiant efforts of others. We realised we were already doing the thing — maybe (for our humble purposes) it didn’t need to be declared. As soon as we started asking people to contribute to a post-internet zine, we realised poets everywhere were writing in a language rife with little pixel bursts, affect bubbles, flarfy collages and lyric jolts of presence/absence, typing ellipses and message sounds. Others were doing it for us and with us. It’s time for poetry to enter the post-internet age where it is and has been, always already, mutating between Sianne Ngai’s aesthetic categories of the interesting, cute and zany. Listen to this episode of Interdependence podcast, where the designer David Rudnick claims Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote the first internet poem, way back in 1816. Tom McCarthy is always talking about this thing Arthur Bradley calls ‘originary technicity’, whereby humankind are technological beings from the start, exteriorising our cognitive functions through writing and tools. ‘The argument that the advent of the Internet somehow marks a Telecom Year Zero after which nothing will ever be the same’, McCarthy argues, ‘can be made only by ignoring the actual history of literature’. To be post-internet is to acknowledge this originary technicity — to appreciate the ways in which all kinds of writing, memory and communication — are deeply shaped by technology. The forms our (and this collective pronoun is multiple, shifting, expansive but with no claims to universalism) writing takes are shaped by technology. The affects made available to us are mediated by technology, often to the point of paradox. As Grafton Tanner points out in his book The Circle of the Snake: Nostalgia and Utopia in the Age of Big Tech (2020):
[i]n the digital age, nostalgic representations of the pre-Internet era pop up everywhere, from streaming series to movies, music to fashion. It seems the more we become tethered to mobile devices and imbricated within social networks, the more we yearn for a time before Big Tech.
The more my attention is splintered between WhatsApp, Twitter, Signal, Facebook, Instagram, Slack, Discord et al, the more I fantasise about throwing my phone in the sea — as if that would offer a time portal back to my childhood bedroom, where the only technology was a Casio digital diary someone got me for Christmas, from the Argos catalogue. Nostalgia used splash! But nothing happened :( But then I realise throwing my phone in the sea, and especially if everyone else does it, is an ecological catastrophe. Post-internet poetry is not a question of moralising commitment: it doesn’t wholeheartedly embrace and neither does it take the privileged position (a la those guys in The Social Dilemma) of rejecting technology altogether, as if we didn’t vastly depend on it for work, intimacy and daily administrative survival. Rather, it engages with the ontological condition of being variously orientated through, towards or away from ‘life online’. Can we maintain the boundaries of our AFK (away from keyboard) selves, or does the virtual realm bleed into all levels of gesture, cognition, sense and relation? How do we question dominant, occidental narratives of technology as progress, and how do we acknowledge the forms of violence, land devastation and dispossession, global heating and ecocide involved in maintaining and developing technology — from the extraction of rare earth minerals required to power our laptop, to undersea cables warming the ocean, to mountains of hazardous e-waste exported by the richest nations and dumped in the Global South. How do write within and against the internet’s sinister capitalist platforms?
The ‘post’ prefix refers to a kind of after which is to encompass writing after the internet, but more importantly, writing with the internet. The ‘time of the internet’, as a breakthrough or fashion, has already passed. It’s so engrained in the reality systems, material and intimate exchanges of daily life, that it no longer makes sense to identify this moment, April 2021, as a particular Internet Moment — the way you might have a ‘flares’ moment or a ‘Dolly Parton’ moment (just kidding, Dolly’s forever). ‘Post’ also means to occupy a position — we work, play, exist in relation to the internet. We acknowledge that existing in relation to the internet is vastly striated by class, race, gender, geography: from broadband poverty to government censorship and the outsourcing of commercial content moderating to precarious workers in the Global South. By removing harmful content, moderators help deliver the internet as ‘we’ generally see it, at great potential cost to their own wellbeing. Post-internet no longer feels comfortable surfing around in the junkspace of flarf alone, while recognising the contributions much of that internet moment did for critiquing the politics of the time. Post-internet feels the currents of its own medium; it’s always going on and off the irony detox; it knows there’s something worse than sharks and viruses in the water.
Post describes the act of posting, to deliver mail; as a noun it is also the post itself. Post-internet, then, gets at something transitive in our coming to and moving through the internet. It’s about the spacing towards arrival and its beyond. It’s about being embedded and recognising your implication in vast and confusing systems. We like what Marie Buck said in an interview recently: ‘I feel like something shifted with the financial crisis plus the Occupy moment, and interesting art now tends to operate along different vectors, with more solidarity’. Post-internet is also about desire and its projections. As Anjeli Caderamanpulle writes in ‘adam driver’, a poem taken from her 2020 SPAMphlet, Boys: ‘fancying you makes me feel / interesting’. In Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting (2012), Ngai writes that the ‘experience of the interesting can quickly turn into one of obsession’. For proof of this, just look at the poem ‘Compulsive Searching’ by Hannah McDonald in SPAM001. You start typing out of interest and who knows what you’ll find yourself hooked on. If poetry has always been about the moment of lingering attention and the expression of longing, we believe poetry is capable of locking its tentacles around the algorithmic neuroskeletons of Web 2.0, while short-circuiting the regressive and reactionary feedback loops nurtured by what Jodi Dean calls ‘communicative capitalism’. We believe there is solidarity in this. We can live a better internet, or dream it into being through poems.
At SPAM, we’re looking for poetry that brings form to the fore (think about those transparent Nintendo Game Boys of yore) while talking, gesturing and listening to form’s affordances. As Marisa Olsen puts it, the post-internet ‘encapsulates and transports network conditions and their critical awareness’: it describes art which wants to say something ‘with the internet, not just talk about it’. What would it mean to think into the ‘beyond’ of this condition of thinking with, to make radical demands of the kinds of commoning we want to happen? How can poetry think beyond the ‘solutionism’ offered by Big Tech and draw upon more lateral and comradely forms of social alliance and friendship, not to mention radical and creative partnership, collaboration and influence? Sometimes it feels like YouTube, Facebook and Google have been around forever (the post feels into this); but that doesn’t mean their perpetuation, in current forms, is inevitable. What would it mean for these platforms, these multi-national tech companies, to be otherwise? How do we experience them at the level of the everyday: from the maddening tactility of our smartphones to the sprawl of their carbon-guzzling infrastructure? These are the kind of questions post-internet poetry asks, while also asking, what does it feel like to have a burning desire to get back on Bebo? Who the fuck cares about the care react (c.f. see fred spoliar's poem in SPAM001)? What if a stanza was also a chatroom? Why won’t Instagram release me from the repetition compulsion of my latest crush? Is it possible to like, share the actual love? As Al Anderson would advise us, ‘never mute the histrionics’.
Back to the Plaza
At SPAM, we welcome criticism whose modalities embody, challenge and strain within the material structures of the web itself. Many of our reviews and essays are hypertextual, densely citational; others are free-reigning musings; many shift effortlessly between high theory and pop culture; they are attentive to form while recognising form’s intrinsic reproduction of content; they are loyal to small press publishing; they are often written in collaboration or response, rather than from an authoritative, singular position. They are peer-reviewed by friends, editors and fellow obsessives. My own editorial approach was inspired by years of writing for the Glasgow/Bristol-based music blog and now successful print magazine, GoldFlakePaint, whose readership and support grew through enduring commitment to covering indie music, often with a strong US focus. As GoldFlakePaint would feature prolific short reviews of new single releases, I decided to create something similar for poetry: SPAM Cuts. These are short reviews of a single poem published within the last six months and freely available online. Many contributors have used this form to challenge our conception of what counts as, or what is the site of, poetry: there have been SPAM Cuts about poems gleaned from podcasts, Instagram accounts, live performances, reddit posts, corporate haiku, sonic and visual works — we’re interested in that sense of ‘native web vernacular’ increasingly lost as the dominant platforms delimit both creative expression and user reach within their commercial algorithms and biased machine learning. The combination of long form essays, interviews and short reviews encourages a more accessible, lively and dynamic critical space which functions both as archive and responsive community — a place to be joyously lost, not in paralysing nostalgia but in the ongoingness of attention, curiosity, revision and opening.
Hopes for 'The Future'
With the acceleration of Covid-19 in March 2020, we had to cancel not only the launch of our issue #3 pamphlet series (featuring Anjeli Caderamanpulle, T. Person and Hannah Read) but also our much-anticipated party in celebration/commiseration of our final print zine, Millennium Megabus, which was riding into the night to make way for the online magazine. While we miss venues such as Glasgow’s Good Press and The Poetry Club even more than the wholesome fan forums of our childhood, we tried to keep busy throughout the pandemic by publishing lots, starting a podcast (URL Sonata) and hosting events to maintain a sense of community. The unexpected consequence of more time online was a more hospitable sense of possibility and communication between different poetry scenes. We’ve made tons of friends through Zoom parties, Discords and virtual reading groups. We pulled off a five-hour launch that featured three DJ sets, 15 poets, an interactive transport quiz, double film screening and ~absolute vibes. We learned it’s important to record things and keep an archive and make space for others to come in. We made lots of our vintage zines available as digital downloads. We hired two brilliant new editors, Alice Hill-Woods and Loll Jung. We kept each other sane! And we read hundreds of poems.
Looking into the blue-red-lime-yellow-pink mist ahead (‘Neon darkness! Neon mist!’, as Ali Znaidi puts it), we’d like to further extend our relationship with indie and small press publishers and poets both locally and internationally. We’d like to explore more distribution models, in tandem with other publishers we respect. We’d like to host more readings and occasionally do this in collaboration with other organisations. We’d like to host access talks in community spaces, raise support for charities and radical organisations, and join talks about experimental publishing in general. We’d like to put out a bunch more pamphlets from writers whose work embeds poetry cookies in our brains. We’d like to be read a bunch and to read a bunch more. We’d reallyyyyy like to host events IRL again — especially a big delicious party across many cities. We’d like to finally get funding (!). We’d like to hear from you — you know where we are. We’d like to host more podcasts and workshops, and encourage underrepresented writers to especially be a part of that. In general, we’d like to keep nourishing poetry, this juicy, stupid, im/possible, embarrassing thing that slips through the turgid hold of mainstream cultural discourse, that bubbles up without restraint, that jumps between us, that loves, that bleeds in and out of pop culture, theory and daily messages, that speaks to power and swerves and shimmers and burns. ‘I mean this fucking vitality’, as Cassandra Troyan writes, ‘everything that they can’t take from you’.
— Maria Sledmere, 9th April 2021
<<<THREE SLACK POEMS>>>
:zany_face: 3:32 PM
Oh nice that :slightly_smiling_heart: 9:00 PM
maria standard time
Completely slipped my mind [6:06]
TM had a radio four gameshow
"enter: the anthropocene"
"the mystery of Wix"
I know Kirsty is an expert
Completely slipped my mind that we had a meeting
Was just being nostalgic for places and came across this bin
a v smart cookie
Hard Electronica and gentle literature
Can whoever's on Wix let me know when they're done?
(insert cute response)
READ A POEM hardcore style
I’m excited to play
by Lauren Epsom
<<<TRAVERSING THE PLAZA: SLIPPERY FORMS AND ONGOINGNESS>>>
Part of this text was originally presented at Manifold Symposium's 'Experimental Publishing' conversation
There are so many examples of pieces on the Plaza that activate this sense of ongoingness in potential, plurality and fluidity. Take Ali Graham’s essay ‘This glint of light on the cut’ recently presented at Manifold Symposium. Ali writes ‘Slippage is happening’ and to me this is an apt description of the film-like performance of the essay, experimentally slipping between theory and poetics, film stills and writing. Hybridity in both content and form can be found in Meredith Grace Thompson’s ‘ON_’ series which began back in November 2019, delving into the strange, slippery and unavoidable bits that make up life as a struggling writer.
SPAM’s focus on poetics extends beyond the single-authored poetry pamphlet, with many Plaza works engaging with pop culture, as seen in Kat Sinclair’s beautiful essay 'A Grief Album: Chasing Ghosts and Aliens in Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher', which uses the framework of the album to reflect on personal experience and proximity to grief, asking how we might approach writing about death and dying, belief, and dream life.
A standout piece for me is Fred Carter’s expansive review of nicky melville’s collection, ABBODIES COLD: SPECTRE, (Sad Press, 2020), situating the work as a vital lens for our current political landscape, asking ‘whether literature is ever a form of vengeance or if poetry is ever good-enough’. Another Plaza highlight is Azad Ashim Sharma’s essay which voyages the fraught expanse of colonial legacy, migration and racism explored in Vahni Capildeo’s stunning pamphlet, Odyssey Calling also out with Sad Press. 2020, addressing the poems through reference to critical and cultural histories, from Windrush to Greek myth and Stormzy.
SPAM is also concerned with the post-internet and the expansiveness of this term to consider technology’s rippling effects on our everyday lives. You can see an unravelling of these ideas in Dan Power’s three part series 'Glitching the Collective Mind' which brilliantly deep dives into the internet as hyperobject, and its effects on our world in which coherence is an impossibility. Power writes: 'The internet is one total work of art, and each individual piece of content functions like a pixel on a screen. To see the whole picture we have to stand back, so far that the individual pixels become indistinguishable.'
Whilst I’ve mentioned poets in the UK, SPAM Plaza’s engagement with international poetry is expanding and we are always on the lookout for upcoming poets and small presses worldwide. Some examples of our oceanic crossovers include Nasim Luczaj reviewing Anna Gurton-Wachter and Jennifer Firestone, Ed Luker interviewing Jasmine Gibson, Marina Scott on Cassandra Troyan, plus Mau Baiocco and Maria Sledmere in conversation with Marie Buck.