Emerson Dameron on Weird Deer
Travis Nichols started Weird Deer in 2005 as a Blogspot account, and the concept hasn't changed since. He at some point wanted to start a record label for poetry, but decided that an archive of voice mails might be easier for everyone involved. It really took off in the late aughties, when Travis worked for the Poetry Foundation and made some big connections who contributed. Then it lay dormant for a couple of years because of his other obligations.
I befriended Travis when we were undergrads at the University of Georgia, and thus was lucky enough to contribute very early and witness Weird Deer's growth. The idea of the voice mail as a creative medium fascinated me.
Early in 2014, I became unemployed and spent a couple of weeks in the hospital with acute pancreatitis, right at the same time. I was very sick and very scared, so I began practicing Shambhala meditation to cope. As a byproduct of learning to calm my mind and hone my attention, I became hyper-aware of the rhythm of human voices. This reminded me of Weird Deer. Since I suddenly had a lot of creative energy and time on my hands, I checked in with Travis to see if he would allow me to roust Weird Deer out of its dormancy.
I'm psyched to reintroduce it and to discover what weird voices are out there.
Weird Deer is unique as far as I know. Most people don't much like voice mail as a medium. They're left out of grudging necessity and increasingly go unheard. Weird Deer exists to celebrate the creative potential in an awkward, intimate, and revealing medium that is mostly hated or overlooked, and certainly not taken seriously as an outlet.
Why do you publish the work you publish? What excites you, and why?
I'm excited by anyone who contributes something that takes full advantage of voice mail as its avenue of expression. My favorite submissions are the ones that aren't straight readings, but remind me more of the scratchy, clumsy riffs that people leave for each other as pranks, confessions, or attempts to convey information that say more than their speakers intended. The site isn't about poetry per se—comedians, improvisers, musicians, artists, and drunks are welcome as well—but poets seem to 'get it' the most.
What should someone call Weird Deer know?
Proust said that the best verse is composed under the tyranny of rhyme. When you contribute to Weird Deer, let yourself be constrained and thus liberated by the tyranny of voice mail.
What other literary sites, journals, or broadcasts, online or print, are your faves?
Jeff Koyen's website 100 Words is too big an influence not to mention. It convinced me, over years, that a lot more can be accomplished with creative constraints (in this case, writing 100-word chunks each day for a month at a time) than without them.
I'm currently a big fan of the podcast 99% Invisible, which is ostensibly about design and tech but makes such brilliant use of the audio medium that each episode can be replayed and unpacked for days and days.
I have to credit Brandon Wetherbee and Todd Dills with not only helping me grow as a writer and curator, but nurturing projects that combine lots of seemingly disparate elements into one outlet.
Tom Scharpling, a former radio host on WFMU, is also an influence. He and his comedy partner Jon Wurster turned phone-prank humor completely on its head in a way that made me even more interested in artistic telephony.
And one more plug! Contentsmagazine.com is all about the potential of creative constraints and information architecture. It's a must-read for anyone who's really interested in Weird Deer as a concept.