An Interview with Fall 2018 Writer-in-Residence Andrew Dally

August 16th 2018

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Welcome to Andrew Dally, our Fall 2018 Writer-in-Residence! We sat down [virtually] to get to know him a bit before he comes to Spartanburg in September.

What excites you most about Spartanburg and the Writers House program?

I grew up in a scrappy Pennsylvania steel city and spent the past three years in a richly literary town in the Deep South. I can’t help but imagine Spartanburg as the perfect amalgamation of the two—a place where I’ll feel immediately at home. There’s actually a Masonic Temple in my hometown that looks a lot like the one in downtown Spartanburg, and during my childhood summers my family would watch fireworks from its lawn. While the temple in Spartanburg is now home to a bookstore and an incredible press, the one in my hometown is being torn down to build condos. My ten-year-old self can’t wait to get back to that temple, and my three-times-ten-year-old self is thrilled to work with and learn from a group that’s fighting to build and sustain a community in spite of all the evil temple topplers out there.

We’re a very place-centered organization. Can you speak to how the idea of place intersects with your writing?

I spent most of last week on the interstate between Mississippi and Pennsylvania, wondering whether you could call I-26 a place. When I’m in Spartanburg next month walking around with my eyes glued to the map on my phone, inevitably bumping into someone, what place am I in? It’s something I think about a lot, and I’m still figuring out what place means to me. Maybe I’m place-decentered? Poems are a good medium for this kind of thinking; they’re like little places themselves with turns like interstates and rooms (stanzas) like a temple. But sometimes a poem comes from somewhere and lodges itself within me, and I think, ‘Wait-a-minute, maybe I’m the place’. I don’t know. See how confused I get? Place is something active and in flux for me, personal but not. That y’all are defined by the place you’re in and at the same time working hard to build and maintain that place, that gets to the back-and-forth nature of it all, and that makes sense to me.

You’re also a computer programmer. Do you find that work intersects with your poetry? How so?

Yes! There are little syntactical affects and textural qualities that have carried over from my programming to my poetry, and I sometimes use code to help me generate or manipulate poems. Mostly though, what I bring from programming is a vague idea that words and their sequencing have a power that depends totally on whatever is processing them. It’s a bummer trying to get a piece of software to work the exact same way on several different machines or browsers, and it’s so freeing to not have to worry about that when writing poems. The misfires, misreadings, errors, and the little discrepancies that accrue across readers—to me, that’s what poetry’s all about. Maybe my readings of some poems are buggier than others. Maybe there are some poems that my system isn’t set up to run at all. Maybe on your system my poems aren’t doing what I wrote them to do. I love that.

Tell us a little bit about your writing and what you’ll be working on while you’re in Spartanburg.

Most of my poems are born, I think, from a general distrust of my emotions, experiences, and self in general. The manuscript I’ll be working on as a Writer-in-Residence is tentatively called Medium Extra Value and includes poems about McDonald's, Bashō, and artificial intelligence, along with a series of poems with specific instructions on how/where to read them. The project is interested in relationships between commercial space and memory, language and embodiment, and the poem and its surroundings.

Other than writing, what do you like to do for fun? Where might we see you on a Saturday afternoon?

Well, on a Saturday afternoon you can catch me (and please do!) working one of my shifts at the bookstore. In the morning or the next afternoon, there’s a good chance I’ll be exploring all nearby trails and greenery with my partner and dog—our little expedition crew logs a lot of puddles and miles on the weekends. Historically, though I hate to admit it, a big obstacle to my writing has been my severe FOMO (like Ashbery says, “You must be [alone] in order to work and yet it always seems so unnatural”). All that’s to say, when I’m not holed up writing, you’re most likely to see me wherever you’re seeing everybody else.

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