My Poem Went Really Viral: An Interview With Spencer Madsen


Interview originally published in American Intrigue #2. American Intrigue is a pdf of the arts, formatted for reading on an iphone. Download here for free.

AMERICAN INTRIGUE:  Can you describe what happened with your poem; your awareness of its success and how it made you feel?

SPENCER MADSEN: Someone posted a photo of a page from a book I self-published in 2010 called A Million Bears on my Facebook wall. I put the photo on my tumblr with a caption like ‘a page from a million bears, taken by james brown,’ who is the person that posted the photo on my wall. It got to something like 200 notes, maybe, before I went to sleep. I remember linking it to Mira Gonzalez on gchat and saying ‘this is stupid’ or something.

AI: Were there any reblogs that were instrumental in its reaching such a large audience?’

SM: In the beginning, somewhere below 400 notes, I noticed a lot of reblogs came from Steve Roggenbuck’s live my life blog.

AI: Did it happen quickly or was it a slow burn?

SM: I think it was the next day, or the day after, that it reached something like 10,000 notes. I remember telling a coworker about it, and he checked throughout the work day to see how many notes it had climbed. Sometimes we would refresh it after only a few minutes and it had climbed a thousand notes.

AI: Where do you work? What was your coworker’s reaction?’

SM: I work at a bicycle shop. My coworker was amused. He’d sometimes say a number and I’d respond with idle surprise, say like ‘oh my god’ or something.

AI: So you never got super amped up and walked around thinking ‘tumblr tumblr tumblr’ or ‘I am the most widely read poet in America’ or anything like that?

SM: No, I was never amped. I remember looking at recent reblogs, at whatever stage it was, to see if people had removed the caption at some point that gave credit to myself and the person who took the photo. I think that was removed eventually, but there was a click through link or something, I’m not sure. I remember thinking slushpile, tumblr is just a slushpile’ and like ‘feed into it, you’re supposed to just feed into it’ and how useless it all is. I remember telling someone ‘several thousand people have reblogged this poem and it has translated to like, 40 new tumblr followers.’ I clicked through a couple of the tumblrs that people used to reblog the poem and couldn’t identify with these people very much; they seemed young and insecure in a way that felt bad to me, like how I would feel clicking through a myspace I kept in high school. I don’t think this necessarily says anything about the poem, but it does say something about how I should perceive the attention the poem got.

AI: I think I would have felt more validated.

SM: I felt validation, for instance, when the twitter/tumblr of powells books linked to the poem and said they loved it, because I identify with that bookstore and many of the books they choose to carry.

AI: Have you monitored your traffic during this time – have you gotten a lot of hits from this?’

SM: I don’t have google analytics or anything set up on my tumblr. I think i tried to set it up when it was a tumblr for A Million Bears in 2010 and gave up.

AI: Has this resulted in sales of your book?

SM: Something like 30 people expressed interest in buying my book, the first or second night. I made a tumblr post saying, “’a few people have asked me where they can order a copy of A Million Bears. Unfortunately it’s out of print, I think, forever – unless a press wants to reprint it at some point. Other than that, if you order a copy of i will never be beautiful enough to make us beautiful together by Mira Gonzalez from sorry house, and write in the notes or just email me, I’ll include a free pdf of a million bears with your purchase,’ thank you for asking,” and some people didn’t contact me directly but just posted on tumblr or twitter “where can i get A Million Bears” without checking my blog or finding my contact info. I would just send them a link to that tumblr post. A lot of them, I’d say, ended up buying Mira’s book and asking for a pdf of A Million Bears, which I was happy to do. I don’t want to check paypal, but I estimate it totaled 15 sales.

AI: What do you think makes this poem so bloggable?

SM: The poem hits the head on a lot of things tumblr likes: cats, depression, cuteness, sadness, humor, etc. It’s topical but emotional. I think it’s effective at generating an emotional response without asking much of the reader. You don’t have to learn any names or character histories or settings or times or places. You don’t have to invest any amount of time longer than a minute. It’s a photograph as well, so it is distanced from text by a remove, giving a more interesting appearance rather than just black text on a white background.

AI: Do you like the poem?

SM: I like the poem, I think it’s effective, in terms of my initial intention writing it (don’t feel the need to specify that intention), but I can’t take it very seriously because of how little time and effort I put into it. The poem is a clear representation of an idea for a poem, and the idea is a likable one. The poem is pure content, rather than form or craft, in my opinion, and this was something I was very set on while writing poetry in 2010. My work was focused on clearly expressing ideas rather than letting ideas take a backseat to form, style, diction, etc. To me, a poem was good because of what it said, rather than how it said it. Yeah. I also feel distance from it because writing for me looks and sounds differently. I take a lot more time with everything, now. I don’t worry about publishing like I used to. I don’t worry about putting out content regularly, and I concentrate on how I say things as much as I do what I say, now. So yeah, I like the poem. But it barely feels like I wrote it.