Here are some highlights from the first iteration of this course in the fall of 2019.
(Pictured right: “Outside the Box” by student Clair Sirofchuck, 2019)
Welcome to the Course
Posted on by mgilmontero
The class will begin on August 28, 2019.
The biggest writing/publishing project that we will undertake is, really, this blog. It will be our classroom, our space for conversation about the readings, excursions, and projects in the class. More to the point, we’ll approach the blog as a collaborative publication. Like the other forms under study on our syllabus, we will consider its form, history, constraints, and unique possibilities.
Note: while it is no longer the heydey of the “poetry blog,” blogging is still alive as a medium for commenting on the state of the art in bursts of more than 280 characters. Even though the poetry blog “scene” of the early 2000s has largely broken up and migrated elsewhere, its affect on poetry discourse remains legible. So, let’s be aware of, and reflective about, the form and context in which we’re blogging this semester.
Craig Morgan Teicher’s 2006 Publisher’s Weekly article, “Poetry off the Books,” is a quick panoramic of the poetry blog as publishing phenomenon. Writing at the peak of its popularity, he notes the vitality of the medium: more access to poems = more readers = more books! (No doomsday predictions that “now no one will buy poetry books anymore.”) Follow the many links (most still active) and get a sense of what is/was out there. If Teicher’s article captures the exuberance of that peak in popularity, Joshua Corey’s more recent article “The Golden Age of Poetry Blogging” (Plume, 2017) looks critically and nostalgically from the standpoint of its decline. Both past and present raise questions for the future.
As you read about the “poetry blog” in these two articles, think about how the medium of publication (the blog, in this case) shapes content. Poetry, and poetry discourse, spill to fit their container, and vice versa, new containers take shape to accommodate things that we want to say and hear. And this give-and-take does not happen in a vacuum: political and cultural forces are a crucial part of this shaping process.Here are some practical guidelines for blogging in our course: Blog-writing-guidelines-for-el-230Download
After reading, please chime in with a comment. What is something specific to the blog format that you might appreciate/enjoy, either as a reader or writer? How does blogging compare with social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram?https://widgets.wp.com/likes/index.html?ver=20210413#blog_id=163673579&post_id=5&origin=smallpresspublishingsvc.wordpress.com&obj_id=163673579-5-6108302958d87EditWelcome to the Course
18 thoughts on “Welcome to the Course”
- elspethmizner I appreciate the openness of a blog, it is a space that people can share their thoughts, opinions, and personal writings and share it with others. The blog also gives other readers and writers to discover other people who share the passion for reading and writing or any topic that a blog is on. It gives people another community to turn too. Blogging is similar to social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram because it is a way people can share their own thoughts and works. However, there is also a negative aspect to blogging and social media because if people don’t use it responsibly it can lead to consequences such as cyber bullying. Overall, I think there are more benefits to blogging than setbacks.
- Julia SnyderI got this idea from the Corey article of the comments section being this sort of lawless region which encroaches on “legitimate” discourse. Even on the internet, where anyone can do anything, we have these demarcations telling us what is a valuable thought and what is worthless. It reminds me of the publishing industry in general, where there are gatekeepers in the form of editors deciding what gets published–although there is also self-publishing, which we could equate to the comments section in this simile. But on the internet, the medium serves as a gatekeeper. Websites of traditional publications are more trusted than blogs, which are more trusted than the comments section. How ironic that something that is supposed to be democratizing falls back on the age old ranking system.
- amandamoyher I think having the ability to have a part in a corner of the internet full of ordinary people who can easily post comments and respond to one another’s comments is an aspect that I appreciate about blog posting. It is the same with social media platforms, because there is no hassle when it comes to letting another person know how you feel and what you’re thinking about a certain topic. However, I believe that social media can cause a larger separation between the people who are commenting and those who are posting. It’s easier to get lost among many other accounts commenting under a celebrity’s latest photo on instagram, versus having your comment noticed under a post written by a rather-not-so-famous blog author.
- Christian David Loeffler After taking “African American Literature” as an online course through CCAC this summer, I have come to appreciate the process of blogging much more than I had before. As someone who loves to write blogs, reading posts was not always an enjoyable process. In previous courses, I had seen a lot of people use blogs and posts as ways to just reiterate another person’s ideas to excel in terms of grades and so forth. I also witnessed writers treat a blog post as less of a shared work, but more of a personal notebook entry. On the reverse side, I have also seen blogs allow for silent and unnoticed people to express rich ideas with others on a more comfortable and accessible level. During my summer course, there were many writers who had the potential to be professionals, and these people took the blogs seriously and used blogs to show off literary prowess. I will enjoy working with a more experienced group and see the potential of everybody in the course!Both social media and blogs allow a writer to express opinions while sharing information somewhere accessible to a large number of potential readers who have access to the internet. The biggest differences lie in the length of the posts, potential for credibility, access duration, and the audiences who view the content. With blogs, there is a greater capacity for direct and professional content that can withstand time and retain a spot easily accessible to new readers.
- Danny WhirlowDespite the impermanence of the Internet (“The era of poetry blogging was a brief one…”), the fact that poetry blogs continue to remain is a testament to how relevant they still can be as means to share content. Even if a blog now takes shape as more of an island of misfit toys (“…something more like a dream annex,”), its still a space in which those odd ideas and endeavors can flourish. Beyond this, one poet-blogger’s immense influence could still be felt across both of these articles: Ron Silliman. Though I am ignorant of his work, perhaps his maintained popularity could be due to a strong sense of poetic identity. This is also something that appeared, albeit briefly, in Corey’s article: ownership of one’s thoughts. He says (when discussing comment-sectionless blogs): “If someone wanted to say that something I had written was asinine or had missed the point—and someone very often did—he or she had to either send me an email or start their own blog, thus claiming ownership of their thoughts.” Unproductive criticism is useless; however, I feel that the idea of ownership of one’s thoughts, particularly in the impermanent digital realm, may be tied to one’s poetic identity, thus tying it to one’s influence in the greater poetry community.
- jakesnizikI thought it was very interesting that this poetry blogging community that we’ve now all entered into does such a good job of working within and from itself. One thing I noticed in the “Off the Books” article is that since many of the young poets and new poets feel left out of the mainstream, that they turn to small presses and that everyone in the small press world seems to know each other. It also feel really cool to be part of the sort of rebirth of a movement that started all the way back in the 90s. This medium gives us all the opportunity to share with one another in a way we normally wouldn’t be able to.
- jackkie98One of the benefits of poetry blogs specifically, as opposed to websites like reddit, tumblr, or twitter, is its meeting of the middle of curation and collaboration. As you mentioned in your post, poetry is rarely ever written in a vacuum, and poetry blogs allow for a more immediate reach of both social and political influence. However, the benefits of a poetry blog in particular are central to its medium being mostly focused on the writing and commentary itself.
- jessicamarie28Reply EditI appreciate how unique blog writing is while still having a familiar style. While it is not quite an essay and not quite an article or journal, the blog maintains a similar feeling, but with a much more conversational tone, allowing the writer to freely express their opinions. I don’t often have an opportunity in my other classes to write in a conversational way, so I am looking forward to trying it out and honing this skill. I also find it interesting that blog writing in its prime (and still today) gave the lesser-known and even the unknown writers and poets a place to share their work and ideas in an environment that harbored conversation and valued the neglected opinion. These conversations may have been essential and formative in some of the art, specifically poetry, that we enjoy today. That thought leads me to believe that blogs, although casual, are an important tool that can be used to encourage creative and new thinking.
- irinaorusanovam What charms me personally about the “blog format” is the possibility of creating a monologue-style tool to communicate certain opinions, ideas, ideals, the gist to other people, have they a similar mindset to yours or a totally different one. Being able to contact an audience in a casual yet truthful way makes a blog the perfect medium for a writer to balance pathos, ethos, and logos into a formidable argument which can win over people’s hearts, make them think, persuade them to give valuable feedback on the work, or even simply entertain them. To a reader, blogs can be attractive in that blogs become easily accessible to anybody who has a computer (or other device) with a stable network (not to mention, blogs are usually FREE; a pretty big deal for broke college students like us).
Blogs, much like other social media outlets, allow a writer to directly communicate with an audience, to ensure a loyal “fanbase,” and to be able to regularly update these followers on his/her activity. By being constant and keeping in contact, a writer earns a trustworthy image in the audience members’ eyes, and thus can rise in popularity at little to no cost! The more support a writer has, the more likely it is that his/her work will gain recognition at an even larger scale in the future, which is pretty cool…
- emilydaniels937 As the medium of the blog comes about and is used more frequently, much like social media, I feel like it both gives us a space where we can connect with others who have similar interests, and allows us to dispose with social norms that would usually be restricting what sort of language or expressions that we are typically allowed to use when discussing literature. Typically, on other internet platforms, this is freedom is used for negative and hurtful purposes towards others, but I believe here and on blogs with similar content, it could be used more constructively as an outlet for critical thinking and constructive criticism.Liked by you
- Micaela KreuzwieserCorey’s statement of blogging being ” a genuinely new literary form, located somewhere between the intimacy of the personal letter, the rawness of the diary, the miscellany of the commonplace book, and the wit of the better sort of newspaper column or feuilleton” captures the essence of its attractiveness and compelling draw. It is so many things at once and that fluidity is precisely why it gained popularity. What better than a place, a forum, to exude one’s thoughts and feelings, raw and unpolished as they are? This is the aspect that I enjoy both as a reader and a writer. Casual speech is encouraged and feels natural as it is written and then processed by the mind. This contributes to a personal touch that, I think, lets the reader experience and examine such opinions and thoughts in a deeper, more expressive fashion for themselves. It feels like the blog completely and literally embodies a person’s very being as it lays out their exact thoughts, speech patterns, emotions. The expression of a blog rounds out a well-thought opinion, humanizes it in a sense so that it doesn’t feel like a clinical, disembodied thought without a person attached. However, this personal feeling is balanced out by the deep thought. Compared to social media, which sometimes is known for shorter observations and statements, blogging is where longer, analytical views are expected. People come to blogs specifically to experience other opinions and views in-depth and to share and defend their own. Thus, the fine line of blogging is what separates it from social media; ironically, this “fine line” is also what makes blogging so fluid since it combines two ways of sharing opinions.Liked by you
- haleigh043 Although poetry blogging I’m sure has become slightly overshadowed by other types of blogging, it is still very important and exciting. If we were to tell the world’s first poets that poems could be shared online and the advantages to that, they might not have believed us. According to Teicher’s “Poetry off the Books”, poetry has been most successful online and has also driven up book sales. I think the relationship between an author and reader is an extremely important one; social media and blogs make this possible. Although meet and greets, as well as book signings, are fun, having fast and direct access to an author’s works is easier and sometimes more enjoyable. Whether an author is sharing lengthy blog posts, photographs, or a simple tweet, the connection is still there all the same and allows for a multitude of possibilities. As a reader, I am an avid collector of books (it’s kind of an obsession). But I think reading online blogs as well as looking at author profiles is so much fun and adds an element that physical books don’t have. As a writer (a broke one at that) having a blog sounds like a much better option especially if you’re more tech-savvy. Once you publish something online, it’s out there for the world to see and it might be terrifying but it’s also an awesome experience.Liked by you
- jphilips2020Reply EditAfter reading the articles, I’ve found that my respect for the blog as a “real” outlet for literary material has been greatly improved. To me, a blog had always seemed less credible, or perhaps less important, than works published through a big press. After my reading, it is apparent how important these blogs are. Not only do blogs give voices to those whose writing may be overlooked by publishers, but it allows more people to have access to poetry which they may not have been aware of. As a writer, I can certainly understand where blogging would be useful in reaching a broader audience and as a reader I can appreciate the quantity and variety of blogs present with unique work to peruse.
Toward a Broader Definition of “Book”
When we think of the word ‘book,’ the image that probably comes to mind is a physical object with pages made of paper bound together between a cover. But this is a very narrow idea of what ‘book’ means. If we confine our idea of book to a physical object made out of paper, we leave out e-books, audiobooks, and other products of the digital age. Recently audiobook seller Audible announced a feature called Captions, which would allow audiobook users to read along with the recording. This development provoked outrage among publishers, but it also led one writer to question what a book actually is. The question is not a new one.
In his 1951 essay “On the Cult of Books,” Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges presents an overview of different philosophies on writing and reading, from the idea that writing is dangerous (Plato and Clement of Alexandria) to the idea of an archetypal book that lives in heaven (Muhammad al-Ghazali) to the idea that the universe itself is a book (Francis Bacon and Thomas Brown). All of these philosophies paint a much broader concept of ‘book’ than ‘physical object.’
So what is a book? I would posit that a book is the expression of an idea and the release of that expression into the world in some kind of lasting form. A conversation with your friends is not a book, but a podcast, for example, is. This definition encompasses print books, audiobooks, and ebooks, but it goes much further than that. A podcast is a book. A piece of art is a book. The universe is a book.
As Borges notes, books emerged out of a tradition of oral storytelling whose continued existence essentially depended on word of mouth. Books, on the other hand, are independent entities, but their purpose is the same—storytelling. If we think about the many ways print books tell a story, we can see how the term ‘book’ can be applied to almost anything. Most obviously, a print book tells a story using words—and often pictures. But it also tells a story through the fonts, the design, the colors, how worn it is, what the pages feel like, and even where it is in time and space. Similarly, a piece of art tells a story not only through what it portrays, but also through its medium, condition, and setting.
What is the benefit of expanding the meaning of ‘book’? None, maybe. And for most people, there is nothing wrong with thinking of a book as a physical object with pages. But using a narrow definition of ‘book’ makes us all the more likely to overlook everything about a book except the words. Books are more than just words, and a broader concept of ‘book’ can shed some light on that fact.
Borges, Jorge Luis. “On the Cult of Books.” 1951.
I can remember a time when I did not read alone. In my boyhood, I would nest in my mother’s warm embrace, and she would read to all kinds of stories before I drifted off to sleep. Now, at 20, many of these tales have faded from my memory, but one continues to stand against the tide of time: Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet. I remember my mother effortlessly articulating each word aloud, filling my ears with sounds that augmented the symbols I followed on the pages. Sometimes, I would even try to decipher the symbols aloud, celebrating each correct pronunciation. Soon I would be asleep, overwhelmed by the beautifully stimulating experience, but my childish imagination continued to forge a link between myself and the literature.
Now, I read alone. Not always in solitude, but in absolute silence. I do not remember when I started to do so, but I feel as though this change was accompanied by praise for a step towards independence; no longer would I need someone to read to or for me. With this greater sense of self came a greater understanding of it’s insecurities and fragilities. Why I don’t read aloud anymore strikingly resembles why I don’t like to sing: a fear of my own voice. When I read a section of Borges’ “On the Cult of Books” aloud, I waited till my roommate was out of the room to undertake such a task. Initially, I tried to read at the speed I can proficiently read at in my mind; however, I found myself hampered by mispronunciations, and I would say words that weren’t on the page.
To combat this, I slowed down my reading, and paid greater attention to the text itself. The sounds and the symbols once again united, this time to drown out the noise and insecurities that plagued my mind. I could hear my voice aloud, and it sounded different. Gone were the crude tones of my casual voice. In its place was a voice of clarity, methodically picking sentences apart, painting ideas into my mind. Nonetheless, I couldn’t shake my embarrassment of this voice, as it seemed to grind against my preconceived notions of myself as a merry extrovert. That the boy who once tried so hard to be the class clown could sound like a well-read and a thoughtful man was almost too good to be true!
Perhaps this is what makes the “strange art of silent reading” so strange; devoid of concise vocalization, our minds and imaginations have the opportunity to obscure the deeper ideas of text. Such obstructions could stifle personal growth, just as avoiding discussion and conflict does. St. Augustine puts a similar notion forward in the Confessions, when he reflects on St. Ambrose’s inclination for silent reading (Book VIII). By hiding from “difficult questions” or even just synthesizing whatever he chooses to read, Ambrose does not enter into any crucible to test his knowledge. Therefore, it could be argued that he stunts his intellectual and emotional growth.
I can’t confidently advocate for a return to the exclusive oral tradition of antiquity, as I feel such a thought is far too ambitious and unrealistic. However, that does not mean we should just brush of vocal reading as a relic of the past or an occupation for children. If we wish to continue to strive towards a higher truth in this life, I feel that it falls on us with regards to how we utilize vocal reading to share our thoughts, even if it is just to ourselves in solitude. With that established, I still believe that our ideas are worth sharing, and that by vocalizing the words I read, I trust that I can attain a greater understanding of the knowledge I absorb, thus expanding my mind and allowing me to engage with my neighbors more thoughtfully. Maybe I could even inspire them to do the same.
Augustine. Confessions. Circa 397 CE.
Borges, Jorge Luis. “On the Cult of Books.” 1951.
Letterpress Today: A Two-Dimensional Experience Becomes Three-Dimensional
Letterpress is an old craft, beginning with Gutenberg and surviving through the past several hundred years to the present day. The craft has not come through the centuries unchanged, however. From its position as the dominant printing technology, letterpress has been relegated to an art form practiced by few. That does not mean that letterpress is less significant. It only means that the purpose of letterpress is different.
The documentary “Pressing On: The Letterpress Film,” released in 2017, details the changes in the letterpress industry in the past 100 years and the state of letterpress printing today. But before we get into the significance of letterpress today, I’d like to explain a little bit about what letterpress is.
The method of printing in use today for large print runs is called offset printing. The process of offset printing involves casting a metal plate that is then used to put ink on the page in the desired fashion. In some ways, offset printing resembles the technology from before letterpress, when an entire sheet of words would be carved into a wooden slab. Letterpress revolutionized that process with movable type; individual letters could be swapped out for each other and reconfigured into endless combinations; there was no longer a need to carve a different wooden slab for each page of the book. Now, of course, technology is such that offset printing, and even digital printing, are cheaper and less time-consuming. But the letterpress community still exists, albeit in smaller form.
As “Pressing On” illustrates, letterpress has become an art form, a way for people who love playing with words to play with them in a more tangible way. Letterpress printing requires the printer to physically build each and every word, starting with the molten lead that will become the type. The printers in “Pressing On” describe letterpress printing as an “emotional” and “romantic” experience; certainly letterpress provides more sensory stimulation, from the concreteness of the letters to the rhythm of the press as it works.
Far removed from the conceptual artistry of words on a computer, letterpress printing employs words we can touch. The words on the two-dimensional page become three-dimensional words—an object unto themselves. And as an art-form, letterpress printing of today places more emphasis on the artists, the people who bring words into the world.
“Printing is a privilege,” said one printer in “Pressing On,” a theme that was repeated throughout the film. Letterpress printers hold a reverence for their craft; they know how important words are for humanity, and they treasure the deep, physical connection they have with the words. How much we could learn by imitating their respect for language.
The Forge in the Garage
The 2017 documentary “Pressing On: The Letterpress Film” opens with sounds of clicking and clanking, of metal hitting metal. Without images, one might imagine that these are the sounds of a blacksmith’s hammer striking hot iron, fashioning a mighty sword or an ornamental grill. But as the camera focuses, it becomes clear that this is not the case. It is revealed that these biting sounds are the product of a letterpress machine in use. Its operator, an older gentleman, deftly pressing inked type onto paper, forging ideas into reality. Though very different, the link that ties these two mediums of creation together is their intimate connection with the human body and the senses.
“It has a smell, it has a sound, it has a rhythm!” notes Rick Von Holdt, one of several letter-pressers interviewed in the film. This connection is also what I feel makes letterpress printing appealing to poetry publishing; together, they deepen the bond between the body and the mind in ways few processes can replicate in the modern age. Much thought by the poet is given to the words that are to express their ideas, as does the printer when selecting the right font with the intent further convey the heart of the poem. And as the poet subtly traces words into their notebook, so to does the printer painstakingly arrange each letter of type in the press before birthing a new poem into the world.
I believe this nurturing, artisanal care that follows the poem through the entire creative process also makes letterpress printing invaluable to small press printing. Standing in contrast to the mass-production engines of the Big 5 (6?) publishing companies, letterpress printing allows a small press to engage more personally with the work it publishes, thereby establishing a better link between the press and its authors. This in turn could strengthen the passion the press has for what it publishes, which I feel would be to the benefit of everyone (the readers, the workers, and the authors).
Looking to a picture bigger than just one small press publishing company, the use of letterpress could allow a small press to connect itself to the greater letterpress community. This community showcased towards the ending of “Pressing On” resonated with me the most during the film; from the oldheads like Rick Von Holdt and Jim Daggs, to the younger generation spearheaded by Tammy and Adam Winn, each presser exemplified a beautiful passion, authenticity, and endurance, traits I see as shared by small printing companies.
These same traits are what I believe will keep letterpress printing relevant long after fads like polaroid cameras and typewriters have faded away. What “Pressing On” captures is the slow revitalization of a medium that never truly went away; a medium that is intimately connected with the human desire to create.
Legacy. This word embodies how Pressing On: The Letterpress Film (2017) portrays the art of letterpress printing. Firstly, a generational lineage was emphasized as shown by the community members hoping to pass their knowledge of the press down to younger people. Second, it also points to a historical legacy that is woven throughout the past, from Johannes Gutenberg and his invention to ad notices in the South to printing in the 20th century. Even now when mass printing is completed through other means, letterpress workers still fight to ensure that such a craft is preserved and utilized. Finally, legacy is also present in how designers are permitted through letterpress application to gain a new appreciation for the entire printing process and a fuller sense of what is involved. Legacy is the thread that holds it all together, but unfortunately, due to developing technology, this connection is threatened with being severed.
The worksheet question concerning whether to use something that holds a significant amount of history is a poignant dilemma. On the one hand, using old presses allows a firmer grasp on the past and the ability to delve into a beautiful and unique craft. However, this opportunity would contribute to such relics wearing out faster and ultimately being lost to time. I can only conclude that the metals comprising an old letterpress would possibly hold out longer against frequent usage. Compare this to a preserved quilt whose softer material would cause it to decay more quickly if exposed to the outside world. On the whole, it is an odd thing to be faced with such a sadistic choice: hide away the machines in museums to save their physicality but lose the technique? Or utilize them to keep the art alive but hasten their deterioration in the process? I was touched by the film interviewees’ firm beliefs that they should be used; despite the possibility of their being worn down, the history embodied by the presses is evidently too vital to understanding the printing process to let them go untouched.
Ultimately, it is ironic that legacy itself is the reason for the press’s situation. The invention of the printing press led to the mass creation and distribution of books, flowing into the Renaissance and its own influence. And as developers have continually striven for efficiency and new discoveries, the fashion has barreled right past the printing press to more modern and quicker means in order to allow for mass printing and distribution. But, while the efforts to advance technology are commendable, there is now something missing from the printing process. As poet Katherine Case’s quote states, “there is no better way to get to know another person’s poem than to set it in type and print it by hand.” Additional connections are present through the incorporation of the press: the more tactile relationship between the poet and the reader, and a firm link between the writer’s mind and body to anchor them to the present. Can we let such bonds be lost for the sake of efficiency? The letterpress community is ensuring that we do not let it be so.
Over My Dead Press: Why Letterpress Prevails
From the moment “Pressing On: The Letterpress Film” began, the idea of letterpress being a obsolete technology was impressed upon the viewer. The main question being raised was: why has an outdated technology survived, and in some cases even thrived, in an age saturated with digital media? Only a couple of decades ago, many in the printing industry assumed that letterpress would be dead by now. So why has this slow and tedious process survived so much longer than expected? Could it simply be luck, a printing miracle? Or, is there something deeper to be found in the gears, ink, and fonts of letterpress?
Letterpress printing is a technology often accredited with bringing humanity out of the dark ages and into a time of new ideas and empowerment. Today, letterpress is an art form, not necessary for our intellectual improvement but for our creative fulfillment. When words and images are impressed upon the paper and the ink leaves its mark, it is almost like printing a piece of history, because each piece that goes into letterpress is unique and carries with it its own past. Letterpress is a hands on and dirty experience, but extremely well designed and logical – a testament to human ingenuity. And, although the technology may be outdated, preservation of such an antiquity is admirable.
Today’s world is one in which convenience and ease reign supreme. Letterpress proclaims the opposite – hard work, and a real, tangible connection with the world around us – is far more important. Protecting the tradition of letterpress is connection to the past that does not drive us back, but rather, propels us into the future. Documenting is what keeps our ideas alive, and letterpress is the agent by which we can do so. It is not a transient technology.
So, I suppose there are innumerable reasons why letterpress has prevailed in this digital age, but the most compelling reason why is the people. In the film, we meet different types of people, each with unique lives and stories, but one thing they all have in common is a love for creating. These people do not want to be far from there creation either, but they want to put themselves into it. They want to feel the ink and the pages. Their closeness is essential to the craftsmanship in their creation and their determination and passion is what keeps letterpress, not just a fancy exhibit in a museum, but alive.
The documentary Pressing On: The Letterpress Film is about the survival of letterpress, in a time when technology has taken over. Technology like in everything else has changed the way we print. Printing was a very physical process; you had to find the correct format and rearrange letters all by hand. Printing now isn’t as tedious. It can be done on a computer with just a few clicks.
The film has made me appreciate the work that went into printing. Getting to see the process it took to print back then was interesting. This process consists of designing your layout. In the layout, you bring it into lines. From there, you lock it into form. Next, you move it into the press. After that, the typed is inked. Once the typed is inked, you can make an impression. Lastly, once your impression is made you should have a finished piece. Sadly, as mentioned this process is something many people don’t use today. Because this process isn’t commonly used now, many people would be in awe of what it took to print just as I was.
Though this process isn’t commonly used, I think it is something that should be kept going. Like many of the interviewees, I think it is important to preserve this process of printing. The history of this printing is important. For me, it showed how far we’ve come with technology. But it also showed me the quality and care that went into printing. People cared enough to do things by hand and to ensure the quality you were getting was great.
I think the best way to preserve this process of printing, is by doing what some of the interviewees are doing; teaching the next generation. Teaching the next generation allows the process to live and not die out. This is something some of the interviewees mentioned. They were worried that when they die, what would become of all things. One of the interviewees said if he could help it none of his stuff would be hauled away into a junkyard after he died. By teaching this process to the next generation, his things won’t have to be hauled away into a junkyard. Someone will be interested in it just as he was and want to buy it, just as he did. Hopefully, they’ll be putting it to good use and teaching others.
My favorite part of the film was learning about Hatch Show Print. They were a big part of country music in the south. When going to their website, I found that they not only created posters for country music artist but also great African American jazz artists. “To further secure the historic link, the shop’s home from 1925 to 1992 was directly behind the Ryman Auditorium, where in addition to creating posters for country artists, the shop captured the glory of the great African-American jazz and blues entertainers of the day, with posters for artists such as Cab Calloway, Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong” (Hatch Show Print).
“History.” Hatch Show Print, https://hatchshowprint.com/history/.
“IndiaMART.” Letterpress Machine in Mumbai, लेटरप्रेस मशीन, मुंबई, Maharashtra | Letterpress Machine Price in Mumbai, https://dir.indiamart.com/mumbai/letterpress-machine.html.
RSVP to Books
September 11, 2019 Amanda Moyer
Amaranth Borsuk uses phrase: “inviting eye and ear” when describing the Quechua language that is being used in a khipu. Although a khipu is an early form of writing using string and is most definitely not a book like the ones I read, I could not help but look at that phrase more broadly. I believe that all books should be an invitation for the senses, and that if it isn’t doing any sensory beckoning of any kind, then there is no point in it being a book in the first place.
My copy of Maria Negroni’s Night Journey is a beautifully written collection of poems drawing from different dreams that Negroni had herself. I was lucky enough to ask her when she visited the SVC campus in early 2019 if any of the dreams had meant anything, to which she responded that they had no meaning and that if they did she did not want to know what the meanings were. I was crushed on the inside, because I believed – and still believe to this day – that her dreams did have meaning. As poems, they embodied such passion and heartache and loss, which made it seem impossible for me to think the dreams were merely accidental within her subconscious.
Aside from the cover image, the outside of the book is a matte black. It feels smooth to the touch and sticky in some places where I’ve tried to remove the library stickers. Granted, I purchased this book online as used and I did not steal it from the library myself. Attempting to peel away those stickers was a way for me to establish the book as my own. There’s another sticker in the back telling me this book is from Queens Library and a stamp on the side of the pages that says Jackson Heights. If the two places are at all related to each then I do not know for sure, but something tells me this book has seen a lot of libraries in its past.
The inside pages are split between the same poem on either side – one written in Spanish and one translated into English. It’s like reading the same journey through a different lens. The text is written in what I would call the cool older brother of the comic sans font and it’s quite small, almost as if it’s sucking you further into the pages until it’s just you and the words themselves. The story itself is completely immersive and takes the reader through various dreams that seem unknown, but eerily familiar at the same time. The contents of Negroni’s dreams may not be the same as everyone else’s but the emotion and the feelings behind them are very intuitive. My favorite part about this book would have to be the message written on the first page:
“For Amanda, these dreams with meaning or not meaning at all, With affection, Maria 2019″
Red as its Name
There is something truly fascinating, magical, intriguing, and certainly ingenious about Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red. This book was required for my Poetry Workshop curriculum last year and it was, by far, my favorite and the most memorable to me, due to the number of components it mixed and carried so well. Where to begin with Red? First, we can start with the color. One might think that a poetry book with Red in the title daring to be tinted red is risking accusations of being too on the nose. But the shade is just dark enough that the image of the volcano on the cover can be seen as a brown sketch or engraving, a nod to the ancient roots from which the story’s inspiration hails where it flourished in Ancient Greek mythology alongside tales of the gods and magical, fantastical beings. This is a prime example of Red mixing ingredients successfully in its physical makeup, in addition to its contents.
The touch of Red’s pages evokes age. The texture is thin like onionskin and almost malleable, as if channeling the feel of an old volume, one passed down through the ages to each successive generation, bearing records of long-ago events, and sitting well-preserved on a podium for all to see. Even the codex seems old in the way it wishes to lay open as if to display its inner offering for all to see, like a history book or encyclopedia enticing someone to pore over its pages, but with the promise of narrative to tie the pieces together. In this way, once again, Red pays homage to its origins while balancing out this hat tip to the past with its more contemporary interpretation written inside. Interestingly, the inside is inverted when compared to the outside. Whereas the inside feels old in opposition to the more modern interpretation, the cover appears old but feels smooth. Appearances can be deceiving, the cover says. Who says that one cannot combine both? The font style and size similarly read like something old, distinguished, having survived a long time to bear its messages to the reader. The chapter numbers are written in Roman numerals, like the headings of scrolls or the face of a preserved grandfather clock. Using an archaic way of expressing numbers in such a mythology-contemporary hybrid work points to the flexibility of time in Geryon’s life story in Autobiography of Red: if he can come from such a far-off moment in mythological history and nestle so comfortably in a contemporary period, a perfect amalgamation of both, why shouldn’t the book in its physical aspect do the same? Just like the story itself, the book perfectly embodies a hybrid creation. Because of this, I can only approach the book as both a kind of history and a narrative folded into one unique creation.
Looking at Autobiography of Red with a fresh perspective, I was struck by how suited the book seemed for the older practice of reading aloud. Even if it was “a practice fundamentally different from the kind of private, meditative engagement we now experience,” Red’s hybrid nature in weaving poetical prose with a narrative makes it ideal for such an endeavor (Borsuk 53). Poetry is still read aloud today. However, longer narratives are not performed in the same way as often. With Red’s marriage of the two forms, it has made a longer narrative more suited for a performance aspect. I find it ironic and somehow fitting that in furthering technological development and literary experimentation, we somehow have found a way to come full circle. Considering Red’s identity as a mixture of concepts, it is the perfect vehicle to undertake this path.
What I learned at Meshwork Press
The excursion to Meshwork Press provided a glimpse into the heart of letterpress. The bright little shop, tucked away in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania was inviting and colorful, filled with artwork and makeshift supplies. The room had a feeling of authenticity, creativity, and craftsmanship – a playground for the imagination. Haylee Ebersole, the founder of Meshwork and the artist who so graciously gave us free-range of her studio, welcomed us warmly and shared her knowledge of letterpress with us without hesitation or complicated language, which made learning fun and easy.
Experiencing the ins and outs of letterpress first-hand – touching the many pieces and working the press – was more valuable than anything I could have read in a book or watched on a screen. Although reading and hearing about the craft of letterpress is always insightful, actually experiencing it for myself – the adventure of finding the pieces, the frustration of fitting them all together with furniture, the joy of finally seeing the letters pressed onto the paper – was certainly a richer learning experience. This experience at Meshwork urged me to have a deeper appreciation for typesetting and the incredible hard work and talent it takes to simply preserve this art form, an art form that changed history and exhibited the power of imagination.
These words from Anais Nin, “You acquire some of the weight and solidity of the metal, the strength and power of the machine. Each triumph is a conquest by the body, fingers, muscles. You live with your hands, in acts of physical deftness. You pit your faculties against concrete problems. The victories are concrete, definable, touchable. A page of perfect printing … Instead of using one’s energy in a void, against frustrations, in anger against publishers, I use it on the press, type, paper, a source of energy. Solving problems, technical, mechanical problems. Which can be solved “, some up my overall experience with typesetting. And, I think, through Nin’s words I better understand why letterpress is so valuable to small poetry presses. Firstly, letterpress is a way for small press poetry to have and keep creative control of their work, which they have labored over and poured themselves into. Secondly, letterpress creates a way for a poet, or any artist, to become that much closer to their work. Through letterpress the artist uses their whole self, not just their minds, but their bodies too. Thinking back to my own small understanding of letterpress after visiting Meshwork, I can see why this is so important – it brings together the abstract and the concrete, the mind and the body, and the poet with their poetry. I am grateful that my time at Meshwork helped me to see this more clearly, and I greatly appreciate Haylee’s efforts to keep letterpress alive and flourishing.
The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. 3: 1939-1944 (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1971)
Letterpress as Ritual
On one of the hottest days of summer we piled into a minivan and drove into the heart of the Pittsburgh area to visit Meshwork Press, a print shop in Wilkinsburg. Our pilgrimage was not without its spiritual preparation; the previous week we viewed a documentary about letterpress printing called Pressing On: The Letterpress Film. And guiding us through our letterpress printing experience was Haylee Ebersole, an artist-turned-printer with a passion for teaching and an endless supply of patience. After showing us her tools and how they work, Haylee turned us loose in her studio, allowing us to participate in the ritual that is letterpress printing.
Rituals deal in particulars, and letterpress printing is no different. The first tool we learned about was the chase. The chase is a cast iron rectangular frame that holds the type. In a platen press, which is the kind of press we used, one platen stands upright and holds the chase while another platen holds the paper and swivels up and down, pressing the paper against the type after a roller has coated the type with rubbery ink.
One of the hardest parts of letterpress printing is filling up the chase. First, I chose my type, the letters v-i-v-i to spell my sister’s nickname. I opened tiny drawers that held tinier type, picking up and setting down letter after letter—v’s are not easy to come by. Searching through all the pieces of type claimed my entire attention as I focused on letters, not words. Next, I needed to arrange not only the type, but also the wooden blocks, called pieces of furniture, that space out and fix the type within the chase. I walked across the room a dozen times or more, looking for a piece of furniture the right size, trying first one and then another until all the pieces fit like a puzzle. Once the chase was full, an expanding metal wedge called a quoin locked all the pieces into place, after which I had to test the chase to make sure the pieces were securely fastened and would not fall out in the press. Pushing and pulling, bumping and shaking accomplished the test, and then it was time to print.
Visiting Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Oakland Branch would not have felt as fulfilling if our excursion had not involved rifling through boxes of zines. Those little (and, occasionally, big) pamphlets resembling homemade magazines really made my day.
Now, you may ask, “But why should I read a piece of printer paper folded into six sections with hand-drawn images and hand-written words if I can read a glossy-covered pamphlet that smells like nail polish?” First off, zines are truthful — they can say whatever they want, show whatever they want. They can even bring people together as a cult of magical fungi lovers and get away with it since there are no authority figures out to stop their publication because it is “too risque” or “not appealing enough, not popular enough.” Another very attractive feature of zines is their alleged “DIY look.” A zine is often created from scratch, by the hands of a creator rather than by a large team of designers, contributors, and electronic printers like a magazine is formed. The appeal of such a handmade format is that creators have more freedom to play with less standardized layouts and content while providing readers with a more immersive reading/viewing experience!
In the photo below, the diversity in the way zines can be designed becomes apparent, as the way in which the handmade zines differ from one another even just when lying on a table contrasts the homogenous display of commercial magazines taking up the shelves lining the wall set behind the zine table.
Zines, however, can be limited by the available finances their creators have for production purposes. Though there is more room for creativity, there is oftentimes no large amount of money that has been set aside for publications and distribution, which means that the quality of the zine depends on the abilities of its creator. Another problem that may result from a lack of money is an inability for a creator to continue his/her publication throughout multiple issues (unlike commercial magazines, which often continue to release new volumes on a regular basis).
Indie poetry is pretty much on the same page as zine culture in that this literary medium is often overlooked by large publishers and is pushed to the back alleys of what is considered “renowned literature” in our world. Though indie poetry oftentimes gets the short end of the stick, it deserves much more, just like zines do, and if the two are combined, the result is a wonderful pamphlet full of wonderful poetry that could shine in any bookshelf among all the traditional books and commercial magazines lining the shelves.
All About Zines
Traveling to the Carnegie Library to see the zine collection was a unique experience and I was introduced to a new way to share one’s creativity with the world. Zines were first started by Thomas Paine when he distributed his ideas in pamphlets,and zines are still around today. Zines are almost like a tangible and handmade form of social media. Someone sharing their thoughts, ideas, or stories with the world in a unique way tailored to them. Creating a zine can be as simple by using paper and a marker or more complex by using a letter press, photo copier, or art. According to Amaranth Borsuk, author of The Book, “the book is an idea we have of a bounded text, issued into the world through the power of publication, and able to take any number of physical forms…” (Borsuk 197). Zines are an example of books taking any number of physical forms.
After touring the library and seeing the zine collection, I noticed a level of freedom that was found within the zines. They were often imperfect, unique and very personal. The topics ranged from ducks, to diaries, things people hate, and things people love. No two zines were alike. There are no real constraints within the zine collection. The shapes and sizes of the zines are all different. The materials used to create the zines also vary. There are truly no two alike. The fringe space that zines are created in is so open that anyone can create something. However, zines are not that popular. For example, before taking this class I had never heard of zines before. Zines are almost like a best kept secret, they are big in small groups and are often shared within a community of people. It’s all about who’s in the know and are told through conversation.
© 2019 Elspeth Mizner from the Zines at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Oakland
Zines are very different compared to the traditional and commercial form of publication. Zines are not mass produced. They all vary with how they are distributed, some people only made one copy while others personally number every copy that gets made. I found it interesting when paging through the zines that there was no copy right page or mark. It seemed to me that the creators were more focused on spreading creativity and not on authorship or money.
When looking through the archive I was very surprised at all the different materials that were used to create the zines, some were made of paper, others material, and a few even made with fabric. By looking through the zines I felt as if I learned more about the author through how their zine was put together. There was a certain child-like aspect to the zines, almost as if they could create whatever they wanted and no one could tell them differently.
The Art of the Zine
Zines present a really unique outlet for anyone interested in presenting an idea or thought. These mediums give people of all ages with differing opinions and backgrounds a voice that is not always possible through mainstream publishing companies. No longer are authors contained and controlled by their publishers. Zines provide everyone with the equal opportunity to present their thoughts and choose how to market their work.
The zines we looked at in the Carnegie Library’s collection expressed the personal ideas of individuals whose ideas were unique or underrepresented in mainstream published works. The zines were all shapes and sizes, and covered all kinds of topics from politics, to mushrooms, to comic art. The thing that made these prints so different was the freedom allowed by the format. No two books were quite the same, and each one reflects the creativity of the author and formatters. By a formal standpoint, the zines do not exactly fit in with other books in the library, but that is part of what makes zines so unique. They are their own kind of publication with their own “personality,” and that is something very unique in a literary work.
Zines do try to imitate some aspects of traditional books. The physical makeup of a zine is generally bound in a similar way as traditional books. Some zines look like they could be manufactured and printed by large publishers, adding to their “mainstream” look. But for the most part, the inside of zines are where they differ the most from traditional books. Zines use their content, production, and formatting to set them apart from traditional books.
By considering the way zines are made and the content they produce, we can get a better idea of the overlying purpose of zine production. Zines are handmade and personal, reflecting one individual’s style. There can be misspellings, misprints, or flaws in design that differ from copy to copy and creator to creator, but that makes zines unique. Zines are wholly the author’s work, a direct product of the author’s thought pattern, interests, and personality. With zines, we get the author attached to the work as a bundle, rather than just getting the disconnected writing of an author we know nothing about. As for the content they produce, zines are able to present ideas and concepts that are more directed to a community, interest or purpose. They are distributed for a reason and are intended for an audience who is interested in the subject matter. As stated in the article “A Brief History of Zines” by Chloe Arnold, “zines are as much about the community as the product” (Arnold). Like Arnold says, the zine is about the act of producing content, but the community reached and the content produced is just as important, if not more important.
Arnold, Chloe. “A Brief History of Zines.” Mental Floss, 19 Nov. 2016, mentalfloss.com/article/88911/brief-history-zines.
Zine Time: Simply Spreading Awareness
While the rock band Green Day didn’t know it when they released American Idiot and the notorious words, “Now everybody do the propaganda,” the band makes a great reference to the simplistic art of creating zines.
Zines are typically self-published works of texts and images either created manually or text and images that are created with the use of external material sources, such as photographs, fonts, and so forth. Zines are often duplicated via photocopier and typically have a partially informal appearance reflective of the cut-and-paste or hand-drawn style, allowing almost everybody to jump into the craze.
The published works are often used to spread awareness, share information, or share opinions. While not necessarily propaganda, especially considering the negative and misleading connotations often associated with the term, Zines can have a very propaganda-like or political-cartoon like aesthetic to them. Using carefully crafted phrases or pieces of art that can evoke emotion and interest from the reader, zines are effective in catching attention and making readers see a matter in a different light.
One zine that stands out to me is an instructional zine by Marko Crabshack, entitled “10 Steps to Delicious Soymilk” (Lewis). While I do love myself a big old cup of soy milk, what stood out to me was the style of the art and the words on the cover. I tried to identify where I had seen something similar before and then it hit me! Cereal boxes often use a similar form of art on the back of the box, with very expressive and active characters. There are a lot of characters and objects condensed into a tight space, with characters doing something silly – and in this case they are jumping into a glass of milk. I thought harder and realized I also saw some similar pictures while reading the Sunday comics. Lastly, there was the font, which I noticed had similarities to the letters found on the back of Garbage Pail Kids cards . Overall the aesthetic reminded me of calm Sunday mornings that I used to spent eating, relaxing, and enjoying the hobbies I love. The message of learning how to make one’s own soy milk is also just positive and informational.
I created an imitation zine of my own, with just a cover, that has qualities similar to Marko Crabshack’s piece. While little information exists about Crabshack and his zine, I can share with you the message and qualities I incorporated into mine. My zine promotes Oreo Truffles, which are essentially balls of Oreos and cream cheese blended and then covered in chocolate. The tasty treat works well for the pamphlet as they are simple to make and there are many people that have never tried them. I made sure to add a bunch of characters with different shapes, facial features, and body movements. I used a border with stars and planets. An explosive design is shown at the top, containing exclamatory terms as Crabshack does. The border, location of words, word usage, and other elements are also Crabshack inspired.
Next time you want a tasty snack, distribute an instructional zine to all of your friends while you sit back and enjoy the benefits!
Intellectual Property in Zine-Land
Last week we had the amazing privilege to join Rita Johnson, a librarian at the main branch of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, for a tour of the Library and an introduction to the zine archive there. The Library offers so many outstanding resources—from the career center to the reference space to stacks overlooking the natural history museum—but the zine collection was the most interesting, albeit most unassuming.
Zines exist on the fringes of the publishing milieu. The ugly step-cousins of magazines, zines are self-produced and self-distributed. Their tradition of undertaking activism without working through a publishing house goes back at least to 1776, when Thomas Paine anonymously published his pamphlet Common Sense. If ever the maxim that big ideas come in small packages applied, it does so with zines.
The polar opposite of a traditionally published book, a zine is not for profit. It is not professionally designed. Anyone can make a zine with a sharpie and printer paper. More than social media, zines provide a concrete way to get a message out. While social media posts enter the public consciousness for a few hours to a few days, as tangible objects, zines are more permanent.
One of most important ways that zines differ from other creative publications is the prioritization of message over author. Most of the zines I looked at did not even list the people who had created them. For example, Deafula no. 4 contains a 39-page rant about employment, unemployment, and disability, which is brutally honest despite (or maybe because of) its lack of attribution.
Another notable absence in most zines is the lack of a copyright page. Rita, the librarian, noted that some people will put a creative commons license on their work, which is much more in the spirit of the zine community. Again, this decision illustrates that zines and their creators are much more concerned with sharing ideas than with owning them.
With the freedom from pecuniary concerns comes a freedom from creative restraints. Zine creators have no editors telling them what they can and can’t do, no “market forces” making a project cost prohibitive. One of the glossier zines I looked at was the Bike PGH! Biking 101 Guide, which looked like a graphic novel on the inside. Another zine was like a huge scrapbook, covered in camouflage fabric on the outside and filled with glitter on the inside.
More than other publications, zines are community oriented. They deal with the immediate concerns of the people who make them. And they address and respond to the most important issues in our lives. Zines are for people, not for profit.
Poems on Life
I would consider my object to be not only a book but also a visual book as well. Its main focus is on the poems as well as the design and overall look of the book itself. I think, especially in current times, the book as an object is very much overlooked because the words are ultimately what we wish to look at. I’m conflicted with that because as an art major, the way a book is formed, and it’s aesthetic is usually what attracts me to it long before I know what’s inside. But as a book lover, I find myself oftentimes passing over the book as an object to dive into the words. There is something truly amazing about referring to a book as an idea: “Engaging with the book as an idea brings its material form back into the conversation in ways that can be productive, exciting, perplexing, and at times problematic” (Borsuk 113). While reading Carrión’s ideas I found it interesting when he talked about writers having nothing to do with the actual book itself, rather their only contribution is the texts themselves. I’ve always subconsciously associated the whole book as the author’s work when in reality, only the words I’m reading are the authors.
I chose to create my book out of various papers (cardstock and scrapbook paper). For the poems themselves, I typed them and then printed them out to have a neat/cohesive look to my book. I think the materials I chose reflect my world in that as an artist with many creative hobbies, I had plenty of supplies to complete this project. I think that any reader would be more engaged with a book if it looks appealing and I think by making my book super colorful it fulfills that desire.
“Poems of Life”, October 1, 2019. © Haleigh Platt
The form I chose was an accordion-style book; I’ve always liked the way this particular form looks and many people have used this form in the past. I believe my form just adds to the history of a book as an object. I know my form isn’t fresh and unique but adding my style to it makes it distinctive. It’s important, even when using an old idea, to make it your own: “…he sought to return to an earlier idea of the book – one stepped in mystery, beauty, and visionary language that bears the marks of its creator’s hand” (Borsuk 118). My book object isn’t the first and definitely won’t be the last but it’s my own creation that I can be proud of and people who know me would see my style within it.
I had a lot of fun playing around with how I wanted my book to look. The font I chose for my poems is called Traveling Typewriter, I found this font for free online and I loved the way it looked. I figured using a typewriter type font was the way to go! I like sleek and clean designs so there wasn’t that much texture to my object, but I made sure there was a contrast between colors. For my content, I used ten of the most popular poems written about life to have a common theme throughout my project as a whole. Using life as my guide for my aesthetic choices I wanted to express the craziness of life in my color choices. One side of my book contains very bright colors that jump off the page, mixed with scrapbook paper that I thought had a very literary feel to it. On the other side, I used colors that were darker and muted to create a contrast between the two sides of the accordion. Although the poems range in specific messages, the colors signify the two sides of life, the good and the bad.
A Conscious Rethink. “10 Of The Best Poems About Life .” A Conscious Rethink, 13 Sept. 2019, http://www.aconsciousrethink.com/8971/poems-about-life/.
Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book. The MIT Press, 2018.
Time and Place
One of the best solutions I have for writer’s block is change my location for writing. Environmental intake can be an issue for me when writing; things like smell, sound, sight… I hadn’t really considered until college how much these factors affect my writing, especially in poetry. For example, I recently was stuck on a conceptual poem, intended for my senior project, trying to capture a specific mood of disappointment, so I decided to walk outside the front doors of my dorm to see if the changed environmental factors would help, and I would definitely say they would. I hoped that the same factors would help with conceptualizing my book object.
Does this finished work qualify as a “book” though? In Ulises Carrión’s essay “The New Art of Making Books”, the author states that “a book is a sequence of spaces. Each of these spaces is perceived at a different moment – a book is also a sequence of moments. A book is not a case of words, nor a bag of words, nor a bearer of words.” I would say that there is… not necessarily a narrative being conveyed in my poem, but the poem is hopefully representative of the time and space I hoped it to take place in.
In regards to Carrión’s ideas on the abstract forms a book can take, author Amaranth Borsuk discusses how the explorers of forms a book can take, “book artists”, have “explored this spaciality by creating virtual realities that puncture the two-dimensional plane of the page.” The poem I wrote was so mentally tied to a specific time and place that it felt wrong to capture that moment in a text not tied to that location and setting.
As with most poetry I write, the poem above was written in a stream of consciousness manner, but as it was written prior to the arrangement of the book object. So, to account for that in the arrangement, I formed the physical lines of text in dissonant shapes and lines, to represent the sudden form in which they were written. I considered the physical act of reading the poem while arranging the book as well, as, because the psychical lines are not cohesively linear, it would not be possible to read in a traditional line-by-line manner. I feel the arrangement resembles the process of thought that occurred while writing the poem, relating to Borsuk’s ideas on physical traversal of text, as she says “our experience is itself the text, which will be different for each viewer because of what we have seen before, between, and after these pages.”
Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book. The MIT Press, 2018.
Carrion, Ulises. The New Art of Making Books. Aegean Editions, 2001.
Outside the Box
“A ‘book’ is an idea as much as an object…shaped by the materials at hand and the need of writers and readers.” (Borsuk 111).
How perfectly this sums up my creative “book object” project for our class! My piece is both a book and a non-book, playing on aspects from traditional forms of bookmaking as well as teasing them and moving beyond their limits. Books have text, or usually do, and I included five original poems throughout my work. At home for a few days, I brought out ALL the art bins and boxes of fabric, scrapbook paper, beads, ribbon…anything I had at hand that I could remotely envision using on an art-book project. I found a cigar box that seems to be the average size and thickness of a typical codex, and moved from there to incorporate other forms of record-keeping that I enjoyed discovering in the pages of The Book.
The box hinges like a hardback novel, but is plain on the outside. No one would guess at the bursts of color and hidden words within! It reflects the artist’s world. Not everyone realizes just how much potential and beauty are within the often plain and weathered features of the artistically talented. Inside, I lined the “cover” and the “back” with marble endpaper, actually marbled fabric to touch on the traditional side. Yet on the lefthand side, I used paper, fabric, and a sewing machine to make an accordion-style—or dos-à-dos—book. On the front is a paper pocket, with a “heart-shaped”(Borsuk 61)—or cordiform—book carrying the title of the project, “Inside the Box,” the date, and my name. I included a scroll…or is it? When unrolled, it has pages! And as a final touch, I decorated a matchbox, created a drawer, and folded up another poem which can be stretched from the drawer and read in a radical way.
My object is geared for the creative mind that relishes the tangible: opening tiny drawers, untying ribbons, peeking in pockets, feeling wooden beads, feathers, twine, and fabric while enjoying homemade poetry. I wanted to appeal to a reader’s mind not just through the words, but also through both visual and touchable art. Anyone with dexterity could enjoy this project, whether a child who loves the little matchbox or the wooden block letters, or an adult who finds the medium an entertaining and enriching backdrop for the words themselves. I used a variety of my better poems, some more for children, and some more for a college student or adult. The object portion of my book incorporates bright colors and exploratory features seen on children’s works, but the paper is more sophisticated, especially considering the cigar box. What kid’s board book would advertise that? The “artist’s book,” as stated by Borsuk, is a “‘zone of activity’ by artists and writers,” and I intended to make mine just that (115).
The Book, Amaranth Borsuk. The MIT Press, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2018.
Drowning (in) Words
I may have gone too far this time…
–me after creating a highly questionable book
The object I created to substitute for a standard modern book of poetry was a lightly-drowned poem that stands (or floats, more like) inside of a transparent tub full of water. I wrote a prose poem which regarded a question I have often found myself posing — What is the correlation, difference between living and breathing? — then drowned it. Simple as that.
Uncovering meaning in a drowned poem can seem like a tedious task, but this book is more a representation of poetic meaning than a true manuscript that is meant to be read thoroughly. Light etchings of the drowned words remained when I first doused the parchment in milk tea before locking it in a ziploc bag, the manuscript still legible to some degree, but slowly, with every passing minute, the words began to fade away as the ink ran down the edges of the bag in a milky, liquidy mess. The poem was suffocating. It was suffocating inside the bag inside the water, yet it was more alive than ever before.
The part of my project that most closely resembles a more conventional model of a book is the parchment on which I wrote the poem. The rest of my project resembles more of an “artists’ book” as Amaranth Borsuk mentions in The Book, correlating to a document that “[has] much to teach us about the changing nature of the book,” partly through “highlight[ing] the ‘idea’ by paradoxically drawing attention to the ‘object’ we have come to take for granted,” especially since the introduction of the more modern concept of mass-producing identical books. Picking up my book when it is drowned is much more interesting and symbolic than trying to read the parchment on its own.
When reading, however, be cautious — don’t turn this book upside down; it will surprise you with a little spillage from the cracks between the lid and the container! Do not attempt to free the poem — the water suffocating it, encompassing it, gives it purpose, a true element, and without this mysterious aspect… the poem will truly die. Out in the open, the ziploc bag will lose its sheen, seemingly containing only a scrap of paper soaked in lifeless ink, lying drained and static and miserable on a dry surface.
“The shape and style of … earlier manuscripts reflect the reading practices of their day and the needs they were designed to meet,” Borsuk wrote. “Reading was, in the manuscript era, a practice fundamentally different from the kind of private, meditative engagement we now experience.” So saying, the book I designed is meant to intrigue people, to cause them to contemplate and philosophize and feel, or, perhaps, to make people laugh or to entertain them. The audience I am aiming for is the overall community of poets, as I have found out that poets in particular often find poetry to be intriguing even in the strangest of forms. May this conceptual book reach out to those, who believe in the changing art form, the breaking of societal bounds, and so much more.
All photos ©Irina Rusanova
The journal I am interested in researching is The Crisis, which was edited and created by W.E.B. Du Bois. The journal was started by Du Bois in 1910 as a forum for talking about segregation and racial injustices. At the time of its publication, The Crisis would have been one of the only pamphlets of its kind, making it incredibly important to those starting to fight for equal rights.
The Modernist Journals Project includes a short write-up on the importance of The Crisis at the time, and today: “Written for educated African-American readers, the magazine reached a truly national audience within nine years, when its circulation peaked at about 100,000. The Crisis’s stated mission, like that of the NAACP itself, was to pursue ‘the world-old dream of human brotherhood’ by bearing witness to ‘the danger of race prejudice’ and reporting on ‘the great problem of inter-racial relations,’ both at home and abroad” (“The Crisis”).
At its time of publication, The Crisis would have been unlike any other magazine with a wide circulation. It directly addresses the problem of racial inequality and offers instances of prejudice against the African American community. The Crisis also gave a voice to some of the up-and-coming artists of the Harlem Renaissance including Langston Hughes. The publication gave a voice to a large group of people who deserved to be heard but were suppressed by the injustices of society.
The intention of the editors to promote a particular idea is clear in this publication, whether it be in the title of the journal, the content, or even some of the cover art. The title, The Crisis, points directly to the intent behind publication: there is a crisis of vast injustice against a large group of people, and nothing is being done about it. The content, focusing on the artistic and social achievements of the African American community despite society’s vast disapproval as well as a detailing of the injustices done by society, further demonstrates a commitment to showcasing the achievements of African American society in the United States and pushing back against the unfair prejudice and violence shown to a whole community. One of the featured cover pages even demonstrates the intent of the magazine. A picture of Abraham Lincoln with Sojourner Truth is printed on the front of the booklet. Lincoln, who signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and Sojourner Truth, an influential advocate for African American rights.
“Sojourner Truth.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Sept. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sojourner_Truth#%22Ain’t_I_a_Woman?%22.
“The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races Du Bois, W. E. Burghardt (Editor) New York: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1910-11 / 1922-12.” Modernist Journals Project, http://www.modjourn.org/render.php?view=mjp_object&id=crisiscollection.
Action Books and Alchemy
For the next few weeks, I am delving into an investigation of the small press Action Books and the work of writer María Negroni. Action Books’ about page contains only staff names and a manifesto, beginning with “Action Books is transnational,” and ending with “Action Books: Art and Other Fluids.” (Go read the whole thing!)
For more mundane information, such as the age of the press and the genre of the work it publishes, we must look to a 2013 article by Blake Butler at Vice Magazine. From Butler’s article I can glean that Action Books is about 15 years old and that it publishes translated avant-garde works. From the inside of Dark Museum by María Negroni (trans. by Michelle Gil-Montero) I can see that Action Books is supported by the University of Notre Dame, and from there it is a quick Google search to find that the editors of Action Books, Joyelle McSweeney and Johannes Göransson teach English at that same university. So much for all that banality. There is a reason those details are missing from the publisher’s website.
The lack of historical information about the press speaks to its mission stated elsewhere in the manifesto: “Action Books is Futurist. Action Books is No Future.” The dichotomy between future and nonfuture illustrates the timelessness of the work of Action Books; publications stand within time, but they are also for all time.
María Negroni’s work fits this mission especially well. An Argentinian poet, writer, translator, and essayist, Negroni was born in 1951 and has published twelve books of poetry, two novels, and five collections of essays. Her work is critical of history, but also philosophical and imaginative. According to Lucas De Lima, Negroni presents a “transnational theory of politics and aesthetics” in Dark Museum. Negroni’s work is very much a study in hybridity, as she writes novels in verse, lyrical critical essays, and prose poetry. “In an emergency, break forms,” is Action Books’ tagline, and Negroni does just that in response to the emergencies of our time.
“A body dreams in the miniature of its night,” Negroni writes at the very beginning of Dark Museum (4). Page four, topped by the word “Prologue” followed by a quote from Emily Dickinson, contains the beginning of the text of the book—and text is what it looks like. Upon reading, the text becomes poetry, but until that essential moment, the contents of the book look like prose. In conclusion, I have one word for you, from page four of Dark Museum: “Alchemists.”
The Power of Small Presses
I think it’s cool to be learning about small press publishing companies because when I think of the word publishing, I tend to associate it with companies like Flatiron, HarperCollins, or Macmillian. I feel like small presses tend to be overlooked due to the number of books that are being pumped out by these bigger companies; it’s sad because smaller publishers produce such great work written by amazing authors. After reading several articles, I found that most of the presses were created simply out of the desire to do so, or they wanted to see certain types of writing published: “In many ways the most important push for us was realizing that no U.S. press was daring enough to publish my translations of Aase Berg, a major young Swedish woman poet who was writing these wild poems unlike anything that was being published in the U.S.” (Göransson). Johannes Göransson of Action books wanted to publish something very unique and the only way he could do that was by starting his press with Joyelle McSweeney to release the material he wanted to.
For many, it is a passion to deliver poetry to those who love to read and listen to it: “Janaka and I have always believed there was a hungry audience for poetry—even if they didn’t know what they were hungry for yet. And we’ve also believed that there is a larger audience for poetry than just poets alone, and we have been determined to find it…” (Adams). Community and poetry seem to go hand in hand most times, I feel like poetry has a large audience that all appreciate poetry: “In the lovely, beautiful world of poetry, community is ideal…Community has both an economic value and a social value…Community is often the most that we have. Community is a feeling. And I like to feel” (Carmody).
Although I am not a huge fan of poetry (as of right now) when I do read poetry or I am around others who love poetry, the dynamic feels so different, it feels like a family of people who are all coming together for the same purpose. The landscape of literature is huge, bigger than most of us think and it makes me wonder how much small presses can shine through it all. From the articles, the founders of these presses seem so passionate and driven to provide work that is exceptional and most times, writing most of us has never seen. There is something so intimate about small presses and they pride themselves on the work they release. Small presses might not be as popular as our larger publishing companies, but they have earned their rightful place in the literary world and they have just as much to give. Presses such as Action Books and Black Ocean want to make a statement, they have words they wish to share with the world and that’s beautiful.
Carmody, Teresa. “On small press publishing” Jacket2, Jacket2, 25 Sep. 2013, https://jacket2.org/article/small-press-publishing.
Carter, Laura, and Carrie Adams. “An Interview with Black Ocean.” Jacket2, Jacket2, 22 Oct. 2015, jacket2.org/commentary/interview-action-books.
Carter, Laura, and Johannes Göransson. “An Interview with Action Books.” Jacket2, Jacket2, 8 Oct. 2015, https://jacket2.org/commentary/interview-black-ocean.
An Adventure Judged by its Cover
I was that person who was only aware of screen printing as “that thing you do when you want to put an image on a t-shirt” before November 6th. I knew some of my favorite heavy metal t-shirts had been screen printed into existence, but back then I was unaware of its greater depth as an art form, and of its future significant in my junior year of college.
While the fall semester of 2019 enters the home stretch, the notion that we’re making a real bool, a chapbook to be more precise, still feels incredibly surreal. However, our final class trip down to Meshwork Press in Wilkinsburg to screen print the covers of Joe O’Connor’s Why Poetry? brought the swirling fantasy one step closer to a concrete reality. The ever-brilliant and hard-working Haylee Ebersole had four workstations primed and ready to print, but first, took a moment to explain the nuances of the screen printing. She demonstrated techniques like flooding the screen (coating the print area with ink before pressure is applied for the final print), as well as the best way to spread the colorful inks to get a fading effect on the cover.
The cover in question was designed by Micaela Kreuzwieser and her team, featuring a photo by Joe’s Saint Vincent roommate, Jim Kozak. A simplistic shot of trees and the moon (or the sun?), we were directed by MGM to use color in way that riffed off of a comment Joe made regarding Walt Whitman’s poetry collection, Leaves of Grass. My station-team, which consisted of myself, Elspeth Mizner, and Micaela, mixed sea-foam green and a light blue, and while our covers may not win the prize for best fade, I’m quite fond of the icy teal that anoint our covers. I immediately claimed the most physical task, manning (perhaps “hogging” would be more apt) the squeegee, firmly pressing the ink into the blank templates that would become our covers. Once my team and I found our rhythm, we churned out cover after cover.
With Thanksgiving right around the corner, it feels appropriate to acknowledge the important people in this journey. So, thank you, Haylee, for your skill as an artist and as a teacher. Thank you, MGM, for willing this course into existence, and for providing exuberant mentorship. Thank you, my classmates, for your curiosity and nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic. And finally, thank you, Joe, for your lifelong commitment to poetry.
Hearing “Double Negative” again at the Book Launch felt intimate in a way I’m not sue was there in class. Upon hearing Joe O’Connor speak these words again as a way to summarize the night preceding fit well given what came before, in the sense that it felt like he gave the thesis statement for “Why Poetry?” at the very crest of the night, in a good way. Hearing the phrase “don’t mean nothing” repeated as a sharp mantra to help bring out the vital calls for community that were the proceeding poems. “Why Poetry?”, if anything, is an answer to its own questions, to help reveal the deep seeded truths about human connection that are needed to help humanity, as a whole, survive into the future.
I felt like I needed to hear that because it helped put a cap on the semester, as well as the work we all as a class put into making Joe’s book a reality. There wasn’t a single thing I did without the aid of others and didn’t help others in some way, whether it be help align the cover for “Why Poetry?” so it was just right, later printing out all the books at MeshWork, or sewing them by those physical covers back at Saint Vincent. It felt like it was all too perfectly aligned that poetry, a medium that shines when published through independent means, was the method towards understanding the means of small but tight-knit communal publishing. We need to work together and keep in touch with our humanity to produce things like “Why Poetry?”
I think it’s more than adequate, as well, that “Double Negative” explored the horrors of the Vietnam War, as that event in history was evident of a situation that necessitated poetic sympathy and community. A war led on by the bureaucratic, faceless powers that was large military, leading to its soldiers becoming hardened husks and sapping them of their humanity, and participating in pointless conflict that harms the weakest of all parties involved: we need poetry not just to understand these horrors, but to build past them, which is something I feel strongly now that independent publishing can help to accomplish.
Trying to Answer the Question: Why Poetry?
Last Wednesday was the culmination of our group’s work of bringing Joe O’Connor’s poetry pamphlet Why Poetry?, not only to life, but to a very willing and receptive audience that bought the books up at our launch on campus.
The opportunity and the work we did in this class was unlike anything I’ve done and probably will ever do. From the beginning I found the whole process intriguing and although hesitant at first, I quickly wanted to jump right into it. As a writer, the whole business, labor, and artform of publishing was always something I looked at as being down the road, something that was someone else’s job to do and that I would be only nominally involved in. What this class revealed to me is that reality is quite the opposite, if you know where to look.
We had our first meeting with Joe and were given the lay of the land of his work and what he wanted to do with it, we were told to read it and take notes about what we thought and to ask him about it. Not only was this a rare, delightful circumstance, to speak with an author about his raw unpublished work, it was also practical. He informed us of what he had in mind for the appearance of the book, we all tossed ideas back and forth and by the end of the night, had been assigned groups that would be tasked with a specific step in crafting the book.
My team and I worked on the interior, picking the font, the layout, the margins, the hue of black used in the ink, very minute things that would be remedial if not for their importance. if we were off by such much as an eighth of an inch, it would ruin the geometry and symmetry of the pages.
After this was done, and everything was in print and we had hand pressed the covers at our partner studio in Wilkinsburg, our entire group spent three hours pain painstakingly assembling the finished books; the hand work was precise, delicate and full of care. We considered with each crease and stitch, not only the work we had done up to that point, but Joe’s work, the pouring out of his poetic soul present on every page.
We were present when the book was launched, credits, compliments and introductions filled the air and then, everything slowed when Joe took the podium and we were all able to sit back, relax, and enjoy with read through of the book. He read it slowly, taking care to wring every drop of passion and fiber from the words. It was beautiful, and when that had concluded, they sold like crazy.
I have my own signed copy and I will treasure it.
Sewing and Growing: What It Means to Start Small
In collaboration with Eulalia Books and as part of a Small Press Publishing course, I was able to help in the production of Joe O’Connor’s poetry chapbook, “Why Poetry?”
While I am fairly skilled in using technology and designing, I was late to joining a team in the project and I only contributed minimally to creating announcement flyers for the project, as a result.
My biggest contribution, unexpectedly, was the manual threading of the spine of the book. As someone who has terrible large motor skills and struggled during middle school sewing class, the idea of putting together several books that people would purchase was daunting to say the least.
Despite my concerns, I sporadically said “yes” and found myself sewing several books for the project. Julia Snyder, threading expert, showed me how to sew the book and got me rolling in less than five minutes. While I made a few mistakes and shed some blood along the way, thus creating an exclusive “Blood Edition” of the chapbook, I found the experience to be soothing and I felt proud of the multiple books I tied together.
I took pride in not only what I produced, but in participating in something I was unfamiliar with, which is a complete turnover from how I reacted to new situations in my childhood. In recent years I have acquired an ambivalent skill set because of my willingness to be flexible, my sporadic tendency to say “sure” when I am asked to help out, and my desire to gain new experiences. The reason I note this change is because I think the power of the small press and the power of entrepreneurship is underappreciated.
For people working within a smaller community or independently with limited resources available, a wide array of skills is needed to succeed. Being an expert in just one skill is not always enough and I am proud to have been part of a group that acknowledges the need to try new things and share skills with others. I wish that larger presses and other occupations encouraged diversification over specification, because I strongly believe that people grow as appreciative and understanding beings from trying new things.
Piecing Everything Together
If you were told to make a book, what would you imagine? Most people would probably think of the interior, all the words marching from page to page in tidy little rows. Typing. Editing. Printing. But what about the book as an object, not merely as content to be written and edited and formatted? What about the cover and spine? “We should keep in mind that no text exists outside of the physical support that offers it for reading,” say Guglielmo Cavallo and Roger Chartier in A History of Reading in the West (quoted in The Book, by Amaranth Borsuk).
On Wednesday, November 20, up the creaking staircases and winding hallways to Placid 424, the ever elusive English classroom, our Small Press Publishing class and several student volunteers from around campus united to bind together three-hundred copies of Why Poetry, by Joe O’Connor. We set up stations: one group worked on creasing the printed interior; the next ensured all pages were in their proper order and secured them with binder clips, then sent them to be hole-punched for those of us saddle-stitching them together. Although it was efficient, every endeavor has its trials, and our main opponent came in the form of binder clips…they left permanent marks on the fresh white pages! The day was saved by a clever use of post-it notes under each clip to protect the paper, but it cost our group over ten copies of our precious chapbook.
That wasn’t all that went amiss: we soon discovered that some of the holes had not been punched directly in the spine, but to the side of it, making the spine crooked, or the binding uneven. This threw off the stitching, which also proved a problem: the single-strand cord constantly snapped when we tried to close the covers! We resolved the issue by doubling it.
The experience of working together on such a tedious and impossible-sounding project, with a fast deadline, provided a somewhat tense, but also exciting atmosphere as we rose from each trial and tried again. I enjoyed great conversations with my peers and believe I got to know several of my classmates better for this time together, which lent itself (surprisingly) more to conversation than some of our other excursions. Perhaps more importantly, it emphasized a point that I believe I have made in nearly ever blog post this semester: the importance of the tangible. A book, as Borsuk would agree, is as much an object as the content itself, an object that we pick up, sniff, carry with us, and sometimes even destroy. Putting one together through the full process of designing the interior, screen-printing the covers, and sewing both to create a unified whole taught me just how much I don’t know about the effort involved in bringing a work of fiction from one’s imagination to the bookshelf.
Let’s Stop and Acknowledge This
We produced a book in one month. On October 30, we met with Joe O’Connor to discuss his vision for the chapbook Why Poetry? On November 11, we sent the interior to print, and on November 13, we screen printed the covers. On November 20 we sewed about 70 books and various people have been sewing more in spare moments (seemingly pulled from thin air) ever since. Tonight, the work of this whirlwind unit culminated in a poetry reading here at Saint Vincent College, where we presented the community with the finished product, a beautiful, lovingly handmade chapbook of poetry by a man who has written poems his entire life but is only now receiving the recognition his work deserves.
The evening began with a brief introduction by Ms. Gil-Montero of how Why Poetry? came to be. The project grew out of a friendship, an openness that poetry provides. Ms. Gil-Montero met Joe O’Connor because of Eulalia Books, which was only an idea at the time. That the idea came to fruition was in no small part due to support and encouragement from Joe, who is an unwavering champion of the humanities and a stalwart believer in the power of poetry.
Throughout his work and the stories he told in between reading poems, Joe sought to remind us of a simple yet fundamental truth: we are human. Through the humanities, including poetry, we discover what it means to be human living in this world, and we discover who we are as individual human beings. “There are three truths,” Joe writes in the titular poem, “Why Poetry?” “We are lost, we are human, we have everything we need.” It is not enough, according to Joe, to be human alone. We need relationships, we need the “costly exchange” of interacting with others to help us “discover the thrill of being.” And yet relationships are exactly what we have, whether we like it or not. No person is completely self-sufficient; we have everything we need precisely because we must rely on others and allow them to rely on us.
Why poetry? Because poetry allows us to connect with our humanity through the experiences of another. In particulars, poetry reveals universals. In one person, Joe said at the reading, exists a multitude of emotions, memories, skills, failures, and ties to other people. There is more to each one of us than we ever let on. Poetry provides a bridge, a medium to say the unsayable, to reveal our secrets that we ultimately hold in common with every other person on the planet. Joe wants us to be “aware of actual life, to accept living fully, completely and to take action to create a wonderful life.
“And the answer is poetry.”
Why Poetry? is available now from Eulalia Books.
Why Small Press Publishing?
Joe O’Connor’s Why Poetry? examines the function of poetry and its importance in our world. The goal of the book almost mirrors the goal of this class: to examine the function and important of small presses and their importance in the modern world. This class has provided a space for trying new things and dipping our toes in a whole new world of possibilities in the area of small press publishing. Throughout the course of this semester, we have learned all about notable small presses, the function of small presses compared to the “big six” publishers, and, most importantly, we’ve learned about how a small press operates to create a new work.
As I sat at the book launch and reading the other night, I couldn’t help but think about everything that we have learned to do in this course and how amazing it was that a group of college students could experience first-hand a new side of publishing with which many of us were unfamiliar.
From letterpress printing to our own publishing event, this class has gotten to experience a lot of important and all-encompassing aspects of small publishing. O’Connor asks “why poetry?” while this class, in turn, prompted us to ask “why small press publishing?” The answer I have come to in response to this question is pretty simple, though it is in several parts. Small press publishing is valuable because it allows the author to keep a sense of ownership over their piece, rather than surrendering creative rights to a board of a large publishing house. Small press publishing gives authors whose work may be overlooked by big publishing companies a place to present their ideas, directed at a very specific audience.
Why small press publishing? Because only with a small press can a group of college students in Latrobe, Pennsylvania help to create, assemble, and present a published book of poetry. This course has offered us an experience that few others will have—an experience that I know I will carry with me for a very long time.