Five Questions with Spencer Gordon

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We asked Spencer Gordon five questions about what inspired Cruise Missile Liberals and what he’s been reading. Gordon’s new book of poetry will be launched through Toronto Lit Up on Thursday, November 9th and it’s free to attend!

IFOA: Cruise Missile Liberals has been described as turning exhaustion and “the rant” into art. What led to the creation of the collection? What was the spark?

Spencer Gordon: Ian Williams supplied that original quotation, by the way! All hail Ian.

Since this is a first collection, the spark must be traced back to my earliest, most disturbing doodles and incoherent attempts at communication—all as a fancy little boy who just wanted a dang treat! But the literal spark for this book, this physical artifact you’re obviously holding in your hands, caressing, was Amber McMillan, who works for Nightwood Editions, and who asked me if I had a full-length manuscript. To my shock, I did.

To address Ian’s blurbage, I will be honest: I am exhausted daily by language, words and trying to communicate. If you’re online, plugged-in, you probably feel the same way. My full-time job means I’m writing all day long. My hobbies are all writing-based. I’m constantly consuming social media, full of ignorance and bile, the news, and marketing speak—total trash language. So the literary work I produce often transforms into a kind of rant. It’s often furious. I mean, how can it not be? Look at the world. We should all be mad, or at least devastated. I’m kind of baffled by poetry that isn’t.

Forgive me any whiff of hubris here, but I think my best work sublimates or transforms that disgust and fury and heartbreak into something equanimitous (and yes, that’s actually a word). Maybe I can’t—but Ian Williams thinks I can, so there!

IFOA: What was your writing process like for this collection? Is it different from your previous work?gordon-spencer-cruise-missile-liberals

Gordon: Cruise Missile Liberals was written over the span of about six years. I write poems very slowly with zero urgency. It’s fun to write only when you want to; I suggest trying it! Unfortunately, I write fiction and non-fiction in a much more methodical, aggravating, conventional way; I mean I try to sit and write prose even when I don’t want to (otherwise, it just never gets done). When it comes to poetry, I don’t try to aggravate the muse, so to speak. (And by aggravate, I mean shriek at my laptop; and by muse, I mean Cher.)

My previous three chapbooks—Look Good! Feel Great! Have a Blast!, Conservative Majority, and Anno Zombie Dance—form the core of the book. My editor, Silas White, helped me whittle a very long, log-like manuscript into something more like a ninja star. To answer your question, Cruise Missile Liberals is different from my previous work because it’s a book of poetry and not a book of short stories, like Cosmo was! But it’s also different in that it’s a bit longer than a chapbook.

IFOA: Is there a quote or phrase that you love to revisit?

Gordon: If it’s a quotation about writing you want, then there are countless. But this short one will do: Roberto Bolaño’s line, “Reading is more important than writing.” I look up to writers who are readers first.

IFOA: What are you reading now?

Gordon: I just finished Kathleen Winter’s fine novel, Lost in September, and Joey Comeau’s novella, Malagash. These are two books I am reviewing for The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star, respectively. I’ve been reading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living.

Just before that, I finished No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein, Saudi Arabia: Past and Present by Shirley Kay, and Aisha Sasha John’s poetry collection, I Have to Live.

IFOA: What are you working on next?

Gordon: I’m working on several things! I’m still writing reviews, of course, and more poems, but my main project has me returning to the baggy world of fiction.

I’ve been pushing a semi-autobiographical novel along the ground for the past five years—it’s time to put it out of its misery. I’m going to assume this will be my next published “book” (hopefully sometime in the next couple of decades). It’s called Leave Me Alone and it stars Celine Dion, Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morissette, Drake, and other Canadian celebrities: a book that early reviewers are calling “unbearable.”


Spencer Gordon © Paul TerefenkoSpencer Gordon is the author of the short story collection Cosmo (Coach House Books, 2012) and is a co-founder of The Puritan. His writing has appeared in The Globe and MailNational PostToronto StarEVENTTHIS MagazinePoetry Is DeadThe Winnipeg ReviewCNQBroken PencilJoyland and, many other periodicals and anthologies. Cruise Missile Liberals is his debut collection of poetry. He lives and works in Toronto.