No, baby, baby, Brian Spears is not, in any way, spaceship or format related to Briteny Spears however he is the father of Brittany Spears. He is also the author of A Witness in Exile, forthcoming from Louisiana Literature Press. I read A Witness in Exile after a trip to the Florida Everglades and immediately connected to the book because it deals with, among other things, fishing. I read the book before it was published so I feel super special like Lois Lane felt when Superman took her out for spin. In this Potty Mouth Interview, which gets exceptionally x-rated toward the end (and I had nothing to do with it), Brain Spears reveals the tragic paradox of tragedy, of being a grad student who witnessed the murder of a professor, and of becoming a professor in the post-Virginia Tech post-Columbine mad mad massacre world. He is also worried no one will ever hire him again after this interview is published. He is potentially almost right. However, I told him I’d hire him as my _____. It’s not right, I told him, but it’s ok. (Whitney Houston moment.) Ladies and Gentlemen, Brian Spears.
Almost Dorothy: I’ve asked this a majillions of times: what is a poem?
BS: I like Miller Williams’s definition of a poem, that it occurs when the imagination of the reader and the imagination of the writer confront each other inside an act of language. The sci-fi nerd in me imagines an infinite number of potential universes for each poem. Or at least dozens.
AD: Second frivolous question: did you really name your daughter Brittany Spears? Does she know?
BS: Sure did, and she was 8 when the singer released “Baby Hit Me One More Time.” I first heard the song on my clock radio while I was getting ready to go to class. When the song ended, the DJ said “that was local girl Brittany Spears” (at least that’s how I saw the spelling in my head) and I immediately wondered if my ex had something she needed to talk to me about.
It turns out that the singer has a brother named Bryan (notice the evil y) who was attending the same university I was, and that we both have mothers named Lynn. Both families are also one generation removed from the trailer park. Those coincidences have come in handy for both Brittany and me when we introduce ourselves to new people.
AD: Chris Abani writes “that in order to have an honest conversation with a reader, I must reveal myself in all my vulnerability. Reveal myself, not in the sense of my autobiography, but in the sense of the deeper self, the one we keep too often hidden even from ourselves.” Are you a hider, revealer or reveler? Explain.
BS: I think I’m a revealer bordering on exhibitionist. But I could also be full of shit.
AD: When you grow up, or down, what do you want to be?
BS: A lottery winner. I think I’d be really good at it.
AD: When I read your book of poems A Witness in Exile, forthcoming from Louisiana Literature Press, I thought you were the revealer of the hidden self. The first poem “Pastoral” in which you talk about life vis a vis fishing you write about the walk home never being long enough. Why?
BS: That experience comes from my childhood, and getting home for me meant, more often than not, getting cleaned up and going to church. We were Jehovah’s Witnesses, which meant meetings three days a week, and door-to-door preaching one or two. Time in the woods was valuable because it was mine, and there never seemed to be enough of it.
AD: Do you moisturize or go au natural?
BS: I eat a lot of French fries That seems to keep me lustrous.
AD: Are you obsessed with your cat/s?
BS: Everyone is obsessed with my cats. To be fair, they are awesome cats.
AD: In the poem “Near Death Experience” you reveal the details of a harrowing, real-life event when a professor was shot and killed by a grad student. You were the last person to see the killer alive. Now you’re a professor. Is this the safest profession?
BS: After the Virginia Tech shootings, some genius suggested that professors should be required to carry a weapon in order to better be able to protect their students in a similar situation. Like I want to be the first person a lunatic takes out because he thinks I’m the primary threat in the room. I’m going to be cowering behind the computer desk hoping he runs out of ammo before he gets to me.
AD: Would you share with us the favorite poem from your favorite poet?
BS: Does anyone ever answer this question?
AD: What’s the worst poem ever?
BS: I once wrote a sestina in the voice of a marijuana-eating goat who was watching the police burn the field his meals had been growing in. It was based on a story from a New York newspaper from the 30’s. That one was pretty bad. Maybe not “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud” bad, but pretty bad.
AD: Do you think growing up a pious, religious boy who was “trained…to knock on doors and preach the word of God just-so in order that when End-Times end together they would walk in grace beyond the sunset of man’s pains into the land of paradise” (from “i Sing of Brian, born of God”) gives the trainee a front-row seat to the absurd circus of religion? Why or why not?
BS: It gives you the seat, but you don’t necessarily see it as an absurd circus. I did, but not until I was in my mid-twenties (and not coincidentally, a freshman in college). Lots of the people I grew up with never did, and they pity me for not seeing the show they do.
Part of it has to do with the church. The Witnesses are a closed community—close friendships and relationships with non-Witnesses are strongly discouraged, and even non-Witness family members can be held at a distance. In a situation like mine, where I voluntarily left the church after having been a baptized member, there’s almost no contact. I haven’t had a real conversation with my parents for more than six years, and very limited contact for the last fifteen. In a situation like that one, it’s sometimes hard to see what the outside world looks like, because there’s no reason to look beyond the borders of the congregation.
It looks like an absurd circus to me now—not just the Witnesses, but religion in general—and certainly my past helps me see it that way. My daughter is 20 years old now and an atheist and sees religion as an absurd circus as well, without having had that front row seat for most of her life. But then again, she had to listen to me rant about it from time to time, so she probably didn’t need the fire hose of info that I got to come to that conclusion.
AD: Why do humans need to understand the unreasonableness of the world and create tidy lives bound by cause and effect?
BS: I think it’s because we’re scared shitless most of the time and we think an explanation of the universe would comfort us somehow. But I think there’s a line between terror and exhilaration, and if you can cross that line, you stop needing answers. You just revel in the new questions.
AD: What’s new in the Spears writing realm? Care to share an excerpt with us?
BS: I did a conceptual project last year—first time I’ve ever tried that—and some of those poems just appeared at No-Tell Motel. I’m hunting for a publisher for them, because it’s a book-length series.
I’ve also tentatively started a series of poems called “My Man-Boobs Are Sagging and the Hair Between Them Is Gray,” but they’re nowhere near ready for the public yet. For the last couple of months, while I’ve been working on the publication process for A Witness in Exile, I’ve been blocked up like I’m on an all-Velveeta diet.
AD: Favorite curse word that doesn’t begin with an F or S?
AD: Last question: If you were a crystal ball, what would you see?
BS: Probably a crystal cock. And maybe another crystal ball, depending on how the cock was hanging.
Brian Spears is the poetry editor of The Rumpus and is desperately trying to sell his author’s copies of A Witness in Exile. You could buy it elsewhere, but you won’t feel as good about yourself if you do.