FROM THE DESK OF E. KRISTIN ANDERSON:
So when I first heard about the anthology that Cool Skull Press
was putting out an anthology of video game poems, all written by women and non-binary authors, I was so in. Except I missed the deadline. And then they emailed me and were all like "can you send us some things?" and I was all like "YAAASSSS" (except, you know, super professional) and now I get to say that I'm in GODDESSMODE
, which is so very excellent (I've seen the insides and everything) and I absolutely cannot wait for everyone else to get their hands on it. Meanwhile, I thought I'd check in with August Smith over at Cool Skull Press to see how this fantastic anthology came about. Here's our interview.
Cook Skull Press, July 2015.E. Kristin Anderson:
What attracts you to video games as a subject for poetry? This isn’t Cool Skull Press’ first video game poetry book.August Smith:
That’s a difficult question because I feel like the answer is very nebulous. I can pick out a few standout reasons, though. On one level, it’s really just a form of nostalgia-mining for me. I get to revisit these characters, words, landscapes, and ideas that I spent a lot of with as a child, and somehow I find that pleasurable and emotionally resonant. I think the impulse is similar to the impulse behind people writing fanfiction-- there’s something powerful in taking these expansive fictional universes that are outside of my control and modding them in any way I like. And readers that were raised on these games have an easy emotional access point with my video game work. I received so many emails from people who were excited about my MARIO KART 64
chapbook because they used to spend hours playing it with their siblings so many years ago. There is an emotional connection to these games and it’s not superficial.
On a more philosophical level, I like to think of video games as small self-contained universes, operating by their own rules, existing outside time and physical location. Video game poetry is basically ekphrastic poetry, and yet it feels fundamentally different from writing about paintings or songs or movies because we, as players, inhabit
these games, we give them a soul, and we effect the way these universes work. Thus, we can think of games as small and easily-digestible metaphors for our own universe, and it’s at that intersection that I like to explore.EKA:
Tell me about the title GODDESSMODE
. How did it come about, and what does it mean to you?AS:
The title GODDESSMODE
is a play off the game trope “godmode”, which is usually a cheat or power-up that grants invincibility. When you activate “godmode” in a game, your usual reaction is to start fucking everything up. It allows you to charge into the middle of huge angry mobs or walk across lava and spikes or throw grenades at your own feet and walk away unscathed. So I think the name works as a simple analogy for a collection that aims to face its opposition head on and without trepidation.
Cool Skull Press, February 2015.
What were your goals when you decided to put out a call for submissions for this book?AS:
For a while before Cool Skull Press even started, I had the idea to do an anthology of poetry and writing about video games. After I got the ball rolling on the press and started connecting with other similarly-minded publishers, I quickly realized that this idea has been done 1) multiple times by other presses, and 2) better and more thoroughly than I ever could (for example, Sidekick Books has some absolutely killer video game poetry anthologies). This realization occurred at the same time the gaming community at large was really struggling with gender critiques: the hideous harassment campaign against Zoe Quinn, the death threats against Anita Sarkeesian, etc. These two things became the impetus for the collection.
The real driving goal behind the book was to provide a platform for a variety of voices and approaches. If non-male individuals’ voices are being suppressed in some way, the best way to combat that (it seems to me) is to create a place/space/platform where their voices are encouraged. For this reason, I didn’t necessarily want every piece in the book to be explicitly about gender (though many of the best pieces in the collection are), but instead I wanted a wealth of subjects and styles. Your Nintendo Power
erasure poems are a perfect example, E.!EKA:
What was the curation process like? You must have gotten a lot of really interesting submissions on this topic.AS:
Well for starters, I felt a bit weird about curating this collection myself, since I’m a dude. That seems a bit evil-overlordy, like, “Here’s a platform for your work! But I’m the guy and I get to pick what goes in the book!” So I pulled together some editors and friends of mine (E. E. Scott, Catherine Bailey, Ben Rogers, Dawn Gabriel) and gave them the first pass at the submissions. Then I boiled their responses down into the final selection.
We definitely did get some interesting submissions. We got a couple of submissions that were actual games, which got me thinking about how to perhaps marry the anthology/literary journal release model and independently created video games. Maybe that’s somewhere in Cool Skull’s future.
Cool Skull Press, July 25.EKA:
The gaming world is often NOT a safe space for females and non-binary individuals. What do you think can be done to change this, both for hardcore gamers and the casual player?AS:
Again, it’s hard for me to say since I don’t think I’m an expert on this topic and also I’m a dude, which affects my perception of the situation at hand. What I can say is this: if “gamers” want video games to be considered art and taken seriously (which, it seems, many of them do), the field has to be open to critiques, be they feminist and gender-related critiques, aesthetic critiques, Marxist critiques, I don’t care, whatever. This does not
mean you have to agree with said critiques. And in fact, if you don’t agree with them, explore the reasons why you disagree like a civil human being. But to violently suppress them with death threats, slut-shaming, whatever, that’s just being reactionary, and in the end you’re going to end up as villains on an episode of Law & Order.
I feel like whenever there is a tangible shift in inclusion, there is always a strong and reactive pushback. Video games, especially over the past, say, 7 years, have really risen in prominence, artistic intent, and general userbase. So now we’re seeing the pushback from those deeply entrenched in that world. And like anything, this pushback will gradually fall by the wayside as gaming is woven into the fabric of our cultural narrative.
It’d be great to expedite that process.EKA:
I’d love to hear more about the striking cover art. How did you choose an artist, and did y’all collaborate to come up with this beautiful look? What were the goals when y’all were creating this cover?AS:
One of the first submissions we received was a collection of visual art from a woman in Sweden named Hanna Rajs Lundström. She’s written a book about Beyoncé and a book about Buffy the Vampire Slayer
; just, in general, a really cool artist. The cover image is one of her submissions, and I immediately loved how it somehow gives off the feel of video game cover art while remaining abstract and glitch-like. It just seems very Cool Skull. The lettering was done by an artist friend of mine, Kayla Karaszewski, and she was an absolute pleasure to work with. It all came together very quickly and intuitively. Kayla and I are going to be working on some Cool Skull Press t-shirts next, I think.EKA:
How did you choose the charities to support? And have they been at all involved with the creation of the book?
I knew I wanted to support Feminist Frequency
because Anita Sarkeesian is really enacting some cultural changes that I support. She’s really ruffling some feathers, as it were. I also wanted to unambiguously define this book in direct opposition with the kind of people behind the whole #gamergate
But I also wanted to support a charity with wider scope. Catherine Bailey suggested Girls Who Code
, and I liked the idea; it’s tangentially related to video games, but has its sights set on an arguably larger problem: the gender gap in technological fields. I like the balance of supporting both organizations: on one hand, we have a very video game-centered thing, and on the other, we have something that goes beyond video games.
And no, unfortunately they haven’t been involved! I tried contacting both organizations but got little response. That’s okay though, they have more important things going on than to reply to a little indie press like mine, I imagine.EKA:
What do you hope readers will get out of GODDESSMODE
I hope readers are entertained, pleasurably perplexed, inspired to action or creation, and intellectually stimulated. The spread of work we have in this modest collection hits all these bases for me, and I hope it does with others.EKA:
What’s next for Cool Skull Press?AS:
T-Shirts! More high-quality chapbooks! I have a super cool secret project in the works that’s probably like more than a year off but who knows. So far I’m taking it one project at a time. I’m happy to take a little breather after GODDESSMODE
Thanks, August! Here's hoping GODDESSMODE
kills it with readers.