If you want an introduction to the work of Tom Spanbauer, one thing you can do is hunt down an author bio. It’ll read something like this: He grew up in Idaho and attended Catholic school, which I’m sure had little effect on the rest of his life. He served in the Peace Corps in Kenya, he was a super of five buildings on East Fifth Street. He received his MFA in fiction from Columbia. In 1991, he came to us, to Portland, where he developed the beloved Dangerous Writing in his basement. He’s helped multitudes of people get their books published. His novels include Faraway Places, The Man Who Fell in Love With The Moon, In The City of Shy Hunters, and Now is the Hour.
But they asked me to introduce him, so I’d say something different.
Do we know love?
Would we know her or him or it if they got in an elevator with us?
If you want a real introduction to the art of Tom Spanbauer, you have to admit you have a body. You have to admit your body does things you may or may not be proud of. You have to bring the body to bear on all of your experiences, you have to let the body have its story no matter what, you have to let bones sing and muscle go taught or slack, you have to know when to scrap and when to surrender and when to suck or fuck or loosen rage, you have to hear and see and taste and touch what’s around you even if it’s abject, or worse, like letting a spider go in your eyeball, or sticking your finger in a gunshot wound, or understanding that the cup of someone else’s body around your own is a universe.
Listen to me: every time I pick up a book written by Tom Spanbauer, I know what love is. His pages. His lines. Everything distilled to the worlds words carry on their small backs. Carrying us to each other or away from each other or scooping us up even when we don’t want to be in the same room… cradling us to sleep or slapping us silly or just telling the truth, for once.
Like this—these kinds of lines:
“Life’s a mess. You can fix the mess humans make, but you can’t fix the mess being human is.”
“Some people like to bitch. Bitching is OK. But for me, I choose a kind of joy—a lucid compulsion—a polemical kind of fuck-you-motherfucker joy.”
Or listen to these lines to hear a self:
“Looking for who I am is who I am.”
“Felt good, though, just being what I was.”
“I was wounded by the blow of love.”
“All this family shit! How can you reinvent your life if the original versions won’t leave you alone?”
“Her heartbeat was in her hands, her heart beat the way over her head, her whole body was her heart beating.”
Lines and lines and lines and pages and books Tom Spanbauer has given us. Us. Everyone in the room is glowing with it. Look how beautiful we are, briefly… we get to be part of something bigger than ourselves for a night, sometimes. Like tonight. We get to be inside the language of a true artist, even though we may or may not deserve it. That’s love. Someone giving their whole life to making art so that you can breathe a little deeper. Or cry. Or scream. Or fart. Or just kiss better, longer, with particularity. Someone giving you their whole heart in their art, letting it beat you up some, but also letting the heart hold you, really hold you.