I’m so pleased to share with you all today this author interview with Anna Joy Springer. I find Anna Joy’s work to be immediate, visceral, meditative, guttural, melodic, charged. We are lucky that she doesn’t limit herself in medium of expression.
1. Please share a memory/story/thought in relation to a dictionary/dictionaries:
When I was very small, I ate every word in the dictionary, slowly. The dictionary had been wheat-pasted to the lower half of the walls of my small attic nursery for insulation. As the pages were so thin, many pages were layered in order to create a barrier from the draft. I was an extremely hungry child, and lonely. Sometimes my mother, who couldn’t bear the sound of “crying babies” left me in the nursery for longer than she should have. She put bottles of formula in my crib, and, when I was not sleeping curled around a bottle or two, I would play a game of “throw the bottle.” Later I would scale the white dowels of my tiny bed-prison and drop myself the floor to retrieve the bottles, warmed sometimes by sun coming in through the small round window. I would find myself soon on the bare wooden floor with empty bottles all around. Teething, needing something less forgiving than a rubber nipple to chew, I would gum the walls to feel their delicious pressure against my swollen gums, and I would suck on the words there until they were soft enough for me to pull off strips of the dictionary pages and suck and gum them into balls. Then, I would swallow them. I didn’t learn to read this way, but I did learn that words are a kind of nutriment and thing to busy oneself with to keep oneself from dying of boredom and loneliness.
2. What is your current favorite word?
My current favorite word is “oodle.” I say it many times a day and I sing it. It is what I call my new poodle, Percival. It is satisfying and sensuous and silly all at once.
3. What is the most obnoxious/insidious/annoying word?
4. What word has been your (recent or past) muse?
5. I heard you read from your fabulist memoir The Vicious Red Relic, Love, and it was really, in form and content, unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. I may be making this up, and forgive me if I am, but I think I remember you saying something about how this was the only way to tell this particular story. Could you talk a little bit of your process in writing the book? And your decision about the form, the container for these stories?
Hmm. I don’t know what I was referring to about this being the only way to make this story, but I do know that I didn’t feel right about “just telling a story” because that wouldn’t be a very dimensional representation of the bigger and smaller pictures touching and affecting each other. “The story” isn’t a dramatic rendering of events in this piece – it’s more like a collection of evidence about a period, place, and subculture, with a love story as its emotional emblem. The other love stories are like echo lines all around the central one, and they provide a sort of vibe that runs between ancient Sumerian and late 20th c urban
queer punk. And I guess the thesis, if there is one, is “if we believe ourselves to be something like characters in a story that we’ve heard in different ways a million times, we might consider the interesting possibilities and dangers of creating new ‘liberating’ kinds of stories, even while knowing all stories will somehow reference, reflect, refract, and resist that initial one.”
6. You are a visual artist as well as a writer and you speak of your creations as grotesques. Could you offer your own definition of that word?
Things that both seduce and freak you out and make you feel like your thinking isn’t as big as some other unknown sense that may also be a part of your mind or spirit.
7. Please respond to the following words and definitions*, picked exclusively at random for you:
Dem·bow·ski (dem bou skē), n. a walled plain in the first quadrant of the face of the moon: about 16 miles in diameter.
Dembowski died on the moon and nobody outside of the organization found out.
rhen·i·um (ˈrēnēəm), n. Chem. a rare metallic element of the manganese subgroup: used, because of its high melting point, in platinum-rhenium thermocouples. Symbol: Re; at. no: 75; at wt.: 186.2. [ < NL, equiv. to L Rhen (us) RHINE + ium –IUM]
Dembowski had discovered rhenium in the first quadrant of what we call “the face” of the moon. Dembowski was going to be very wealthy, very taken care of. We all were.
plas·ter (ˈplastər), n. 1. a composition, as of lime or gypsum, sand, water, and sometimes hair, applied in a pasty form to walls, ceilings, etc. and allowed to harden and dry. 2. powdered gypsum. 3. see plaster of Paris. 4. a solid or semisolid preparation for spreading upon cloth or the like and applying to the body for some remedial or other purpose. –v.t. 5. to cover (walls, ceilings, etc.) with plaster. 6. to treat with gypsum or plaster of Paris. 7. to lay flat like a layer of plaster. 8. to daub or fill with plaster or something similar. 9. to apply a plaster to (the body, a wound, etc.) 10. to overspread with something, esp. thickly or excessively: a wall plastered with posters. [ME, OE < ML plastr(um) plaster (both medical and building senses), aph. Var. of L emplastrum < Gk emplastron salve, equiv. to em- EM2 + plass(ein) (to) mold, form + tron -TRON] –plas·ter·er, n. –plas·ter·i·ness, n. –plas·ter·y, adj.
Instead, we were instructed to plaster over the face of the moon. In essence, to create a new face indistinguishable from the last. This plastering would render the rhenium undetectable, and we would be able to return to the site after our mission, when the organization was down for holiday break. We knew this plan was infeasible, but we couldn’t disobey command, not with the example that’d been made of Dembowski. We pushed Dembowski into the dust and plastered over that too. When we finished, we
Ka·ma·su·tra (kä′mə so̵̅o̅′trə), n. an ancient Hindu text on mystical erotics.
On our return, we didn’t speak except necessary commands and professional responses. Some secrets are powerful and should remain unuttered. One of mine was that I had removed a small book from Dembowski’s leg pocket before the plastering. It was a Kama Sutra, printed in Sanskrit. He had carried it out on his quadrant sweep, and I can’t imagine why. He may have planned to leave the book there in the great hole now known as “Dembowski,” in order to pretend, on a later mission, to have “found evidence” of earliest cultures’ space travel. He might have imagined presenting this quadrant as the former location of a university of lunar sensuality and erotic moon worship. But his plan was unsuccessful. The greatest anthropological and religious scam of the century, at least, was averted when Dembowski broke his neck.
mil·le·fi·o·ri (miləfēˈôrē), n. decorative glass made by fusing multicolored glass canes together, cutting them crosswise, joining them into new groups, embedding the groups in transparent glass, and blowing the resultant mass into a desired shape. Also, mil·le·fi·o·re. [ < It equiv. to mille thousand ( < L) + fiore, pl. of fiore < L flori- (s. of flos) FLOWER]
He had tripped over something hidden beneath the moondust. The organization kept it. It was an oblong millefiori bead. No one ever confirmed whether it was ancient or modern. No one outside the organization knows about the bead except for the buyer, my mother. She wears it, dangerously, on a leather thong around her wrist. She still refuses to tell me the results of the tests she’s had done on the bead. She’s mocked me with farfetched millefiori origin stories for years, a new one every time I’ve asked. I have my own fun, too. I have put Dembowski’s volume of the Kama Sutra in Sanskrit under her bed. I would like very much to inherit the bead. I will hold it in my mouth wherever I go.
Anna Joy Springer is the author of The Vicious Red Relic, Love (Jaded Ibis, 2011), a fabulist memoir with soundscape and images. She’s now making a book-length rebus called Thieves With Tiny Eyes. An Associate Professor of Literature at UC San Diego and the director of its MFA Program in Writing, she teaches experimental writing, feminist literature & graphic texts. She’s played in punk bands Blatz, The Gr’ups, and Cypher in the Snow and toured with the all-woman spoken word troupe Sister Spit.
*Definitions taken from Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, copyright 1989
2 responses to “the dictionary project author interview: anna joy springer”
Wow! What a delight to read how Anna Joy weaves together disparate words into an intriguing story. She took me to the moon and back.
Pingback: Birds of Lace at AWP + news | Birds of Lace