“Why Poetry?”: It’s Simple!

Joe O’Connor had a book launch for his poetry chapbook, Why Poetry? and it was different than any other reading I had seen in a very profound way.

As an undergraduate student and biochemistry major, presentations I have viewed are almost always rigid in structure and stale in content.  Presenters want to get a lot of information across in a short amount of time and as a result they generally speed through presentations as quickly as they can.  Being speedy is not particularly bad if the content is dynamic and still comprehensible for the listener, but students often rush in order to meet all criteria pertaining to a syllabus, leaving the audience clueless and bored.

why-poetry
Joe O’Connor, author of Why Poetry?   © Eulalia Books

O’Connor managed to give a very down-to-earth presentation that was compelling to audience members.  Whether the audience had read his works or not – it didn’t matter.  O’Connor spoke the simple truth and that was it.  Opinions on his background, how he defined poetry, and the types of people he met in his life, are just a few of the topics that he covered and these topics gave his formal presentation the illusion of casual conversation.

As a audience member of several literature readings, most presentations have been exactly the same – first there is a discussion, next is a reading, and finally there is a question and answer section.  Often times the reading section feels long and boring because the author fumbles trying to decide good places to read from or just picks spots that are seemingly random to the audience.

O’Connor started with an introduction but then intertwined his personal notes and stories with the poetry that he read.  In between each poem, he included shared another segment of his life or just gave an opinion on something pertinent to his poetry.  The back-and-forth structure kept the readings fresh and set the stage for individual poems so that they could be well-digested by the audience.

My reading from the event was O’Connor’s “Double Negative,” where O’Connor explains how war and times of struggle can make aspects of life that should be beautiful and meaningful seem as if they “Don’t mean nothing.”  He read the text with such great pacing and power that is needed when reading a text with repetition; I don’t think the text has nearly the same effect when not read aloud.

My favorite side-blurb that O’Connor gave was his discussion about simplistic poetry and why its existence is important for the sake of what poetry is.  He shared that he used to not fully appreciate simplistic poetry, but then how he grew to appreciate it because simple poetry allows the reader to form a lot of imagery, ideas, and so forth, from simple ideas.  I felt like the O’Connor’s blurb complemented “Double Negative,” because to look between the lines and draw out the good in times of stress or war is what exactly what humans need.

Overall, the book launch was a neat experience and a chance to appreciate the simpler things in life.  I was glad to have been a part of the project and I hope to one day have the chance to speak at my own reading with a creative angle to match.

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.

11.14.2019_Screenprinted+Covers
Covers of unbound “Why Poetry?” books. ©Eulalia Books

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.

Freedom from the Press: Why There is More Than Just Aiming High

Most writers do not make it to the top, and those who do, do not always get what they expect.

Garth Graeper is a poet and editor who has had experiences working in both small press and large press environments. Graeper was a former Ugly Duckling Presse editor and is currently an editor Penguin Random House.

graeper
Garth Graeper, poet and editor.  ©Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin University English Department

Presented with a chance to ask a question during a Skype interview, I asked Graeper whether authors have more freedom over works when publishing through a small press or through a larger press. My initial thoughts were that a small press, while it may have less restrictions or standards for individual authors, may have limited human resources. I expected a limited number of people able to assist authors would result in less association with editors and impose certain restrictive rules due to time constraints. I also thought that in a large press, an author would have more chances to meet with editors and make decisions, even though the press itself may be restrictive with content. According to Graeper, authors who publish via small press generally have more freedom over writing.

Graeper also shared other information regarding large and small presses based on his experiences. Graeper describes the “millions of little pieces” that make a big publishing house work. While the process is more systematic and limiting in some regards, Graeper notes the other job opportunities that are opened up, including the work of agents, more editors, and so forth. As someone who has been redirected by email to one too many times, I began to realize how limiting and difficult making changes may be with a large publisher. There are people who you will not know, people who you cannot quickly contact, and people who will not be able to help you in the way that you want. The hierarchical type of system also makes it harder on newcomers to such presses – something I had not considered initially, but have encountered in many other environments.

I asked the question out of curiosity as someone who would like to have work published through a publishing company in the future. As of now, I have only independently published through Amazon Kindle, but how much further I would want to go beyond that has always been a question of mine. Would my works be altered significantly? Would the change be for the better?  Would I rather be able to make more mistakes and get less readers for the sake of writing freely and feeling like I genuinely made my content alone?  There is a hidden cost to being a published writer that novices may not initially consider.

Working under a small publisher or big publisher boils down to the preferences of the author and what an author wants from the experience.  The most important step is just getting the works out there.

The Seven Arts: Binding Writers One Piece at a Time

Popular culture often defines the literature that we read, leaving works from other cultures and lesser known authors in the dark.

72117962_403274217025196_6252665345736179712_n
The cover of the first issue of The Seven Arts magazine. ©The Modernist Journal Project

The Seven Arts magazine publication promoted the removal of “genteel tradition” and instead tried to “catalyze an American cultural renaissance by building a distinctively American culture for a national American audience.”  The magazine managed to pull in a young audience with its more modern and culturally distinct works.  In fact, the journal helped bring works that were not recognized on a large scale.

While the journal only lasted for approximately a year, some highly recognized authors also contributed to the magazine, including Randolph Bourne, Robert Frost, and H. L. Mencken.  Highly accredited authors and less recognized authors collaborating in a publication is a quite enriching experience that opens up opportunities for both authors new, old, experienced, and inexperienced.

1349104972281256
A page of The Seven Arts that shares recommended poems and stories. ©The Modernist Journal Project

A page presenting descriptions of popular poems and books is shown.  The magazine itself has mostly short stories, but the page referencing good reads speaks words about the purpose of the magazine in a better light.  Many of the poem descriptions appeal to “the new age” of readers with many direct references to the new age, to vitality, and to fresh perspectives on issues.  Many of the books described on the bottom of the page involve perspectives from different cultures and under represented groups of people, including women.  The presentation of recommended works with an overall theme keeps readers of the magazine on the same page and creates a strong community of readers and writers.

Despite the strength of the content and community of readers, the magazine may have just been made at a poor time.  The journal was published right in the middle of World War I, a time where focuses were likely elsewhere.  While a younger generation may have appreciated the voice of other cultures during such a time, the older generation was likely highly skeptical of a magazine that focused on entertaining literature and literature from even cultures that were being fought against in battle.  Vocal opposition to the war expressed in the magazine led to the publication’s demise, as a main patron of the project withdrew funding.

The Seven Arts was a influential and short-lived magazine that did not just present literature defined by popular culture, but instead managed to define popular culture by presenting the right type of literature that appealed to a progressive audience.

Works Cited

  1. “The Seven Arts Oppenheim, James (Editor) New York: The Seven Arts Publishing Co., 1916 / 1917.” Modernist Journals Project, http://www.modjourn.org/render.php?view=mjp_object&id=SevenArtsCollection.

That’s a Wrap, Not a Book

71558552_517998905689991_8508562596876517376_n
The cover of the book made from self-adhesive bandages, entitled Self-Adhesion. ©Christian David Loeffler

In The Book, Borsuk states that a book is “able to take any number of physical forms” (197).  I formed a book out of self-adhesive bandages wrapped about construction paper. Wrapping the bandages around construction paper allowed for the paper to retain form while also allowing the bandages to make the typical rectangular shape of a book. Inside of the book are individual pages also made out of construction paper and wrapped with bandages.

While physicality plays a role, my book is a book based on the fact that it acts as contains literary text, in the form of poetry.  The text itself is what makes the book a book, as opposed to other aspects of the book, such as the cover.  The text exhibits what Carrion defines as a “sequence of moments” by the actions and thoughts that make up the poem inside (1).

Self-adhesive bandages exist in excess inside my room for rare cases of emergency and also for fun with my anime club when we want to dress-up like injured warriors.  The fact that I have bandages in my closet for rare occasions and cases, probably says a lot about how I live in a consumerist environment, where I can waste money on silly items while being tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

While I do like to shop, bandages also remind me of injury and pain.  I chose bandages for the creation of my poetry book, because good poetry comes from someone who has seen the good and bad of nature.  Great poets have seen pain or have even experienced pain first-hand, even if they manage to find the bright side in what they see.  I decided to use orange and yellow bandages from my extensive array of colors, because the colors are bright and upbeat and reflect the optimism poets or readers must find amidst the pain.

I titled my poetry book “Self-Adhesion” because the poetry in the book is supposed to be beautiful and uplifting, to the point where the book can pull someone back together or trigger a personal adhesion.  The poem I present inside of the book is about making the most of one’s life and suits the appearance and overall theme of the book well.  Borsuk defines the book as being “an idea as much as an object,” thus further insinuating the properties of the text as a book based on the strong underlying theme (111).

70880020_2996783633725933_3843069365603794944_n (1)
A poem I created in 2015, called “The Essence of an Eternity,” serves as a poem reflective of the book’s content and theme.  ©Christian David Loeffler

The book is specifically made to attract a reader via bright colors, but also maintain a more serious stature through the the title, language, and bandage exterior.  When reading the title, the reader should pick up on the dark undertones that may be presented beyond the happy poetry; similar themes are reflected through the poetry itself.  My desired reader is curious and constantly seeking more from life – both good and bad.  The desired reader has a sense of seek truth by unconventional means and likes a story with no true answer, but only opportunities to learn.

Works Cited:

Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book. The MIT Press, 2018.

Carrion, Ulises. The New Art of Making Books. Aegean Editions, 2001.

 

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.

screen_shot_2016-04-13_at_40517_pm
“10 Steps to Delicious Soymilk” zine by Marko Crabshack.  ©Smithsonian.com

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.

71382022_430167854277423_7931838640387260416_n-min
My Oreo Truffle zine. ©Christian David Loeffler

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!

 

 

Works Cited:

Lewis, Danny. “Four Finds from University of Kansas’ Collection of Radical Zines.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 14 Sept. 2016, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/four-finds-from-university-of-kansas-collection-of-radical-zines-180958761/.

 

 

A Tribute to Typography: The Secret World Beyond the Words We See

Fonts influence humans more than people realize, with many daily decisions being swayed by the appearance of the word styles presented before them.

A restaurant with mute, cursive letters is the more likely place one will take a special date, while the restaurant with bright, bubbly letters is where one will buy dinner for the whole family.  A job application typed in Comic Sans will be tossed out by most sane employers.  People characterize the nature of products, the sophistication of others, and the quality of organizations all based on a variety of fonts seen on a regular basis.  While there are fonts that serve to fit certain basic situations, there are also distinguishable fonts that help identify character and style to a greater degree.  Upon looking through an extensive list of fonts, I found a letterpress typeface that was to my particular liking called Dans.  Dans was published in 2013 by a Catalan graphic designer who lives in Montblanc named Isaac Ballesté Martorell (Devroye).  Despite having only a sentence-worth of personal information on Martorell or on the inspiration for Dans, I found the font style hard to overlook.

70743661_754551788315773_3410738571768758272_n
“We accept the love we think we deserve.” – Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  © 2019, Christian David Loeffler

As a lover of the city and of self-discovery, I found myself mesmerized by the characters in Dans.  The letters appear to have a very coarse and scratchy texture, reminding me of bricks when I first saw an image of the letters in red.  Bricks, and therefore the font, remind me of the city as well as the hopes and dreams of those who strive for success.  I remember reading so many inspirational stories about growing up in the city, many of which contained a similar font, making Dans somewhat nostalgic for me.  City residents have a greater focus on being career-oriented than discovering the self, which makes me think of struggles that some people go through in trying to create a personal identity.  The letters ultimately made me think of my two favorite coming-of-age stories that take place in the city, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chorbosky, so I decided to make a quote from the latter story out of Dans font cut-outs.

Dans font is also practically pleasing in terms of design.  The font contains characteristics similar to Times New Roman font, which is my favorite font.  Dans contains character ends that become less wide but cut off in a more rectangular shape, as opposed the pointed ends found in Times New Roman font.  The ends also point towards the center of the letter or are just absent from the letter in some cases.  I found Dans to still have aspects of what people deem to be a more professional font, while expressing a sense of playfulness in choice as well.  While there are some amazing fonts out there, typographers like Martorell are often unknown to most regular people.  Even typographers who helped create fonts that define the way Americans see language daily, such as Times New Roman and Helvetica – Lardent and Miedinger & Hoffman, respectively – are unknown to most adults (Lekach).

Next time you decide to type that paper until three in the morning, take a break and learn about the other artist contributing to your words.

Works Cited

  1. Devroye, Luc. “Isaac Ballesté Martorell.” Luc Devroye, luc.devroye.org/fonts-62099.html.
  2. Lekach, Maya. “8 Famous Fonts and Designers Who Made Them.” 99designs, 99designs, 23 Jan. 2018, 99designs.com/blog/creative-inspiration/8-famous-fonts-and-designers-who-made-them/.

 

Pressing Onward: Preserving History by Keeping it Active

History is not just a place for the museums.  We live and make history every single day, so why should the historically famous printing press be any different?

Preserving heritage items is something that humans are taught from a young age.  A child is told to take care of belongings so that the items to not get ruined.  When a child spills juice on the antique that grandma made fifty years ago, mom will likely lose her temper.  Even my aunt hangs onto a broken spoon that her grandmother used to cook food during my aunt’s toddler years.

Preservation is good of course, as famous paintings we still have in museums today could have been stolen or received stains from a careless tourist who did not read the “No Open Drink Containers” sign at the main entrance of the museum.  Museum visitors will see items preserved behind a glass encasement with a built-in alarm system just so that there is no chance of an object being touched by human hands or other items.  With preservation, humans have been able not only to reserve the original artworks they have come to love, but also to copy them in other forms that are more accessible to everyday people in the form of pictures in books or images on the internet of a famous painting.

5b87ffc63cccd120008b4589-750-563-min
Image from Newsies 1992 Film.  Photo credit to insider.com ©.

What happens when people only sit back and admire history without actually partaking in it any longer, though?  Sure, there are many people that have seen a painting by Vincent van Gogh through the internet or in a book, but how many of these fans can recreate art similar to his style?  When the original painting can no longer be preserved, with the exceptions of historians and hardcore fans, modern viewers will not know the type of canvas or paints Vincent van Gogh used and will have nothing to compare imitation attempts to.  If modern people tried to recreate something similar, they would likely be unable to identify or find the necessary resources to do so.

In the film Pressing On: The Letterpress Film, speakers share the significance of keeping printing presses active, even if presses are not the most efficient way of producing modern text-based entertainment.  Persons interviewed in the film realize that modern people need to continuously use items from the past in order to understand how to preserve such items.  Somebody who regularly works with an old small press would understand how to fix parts of the machine that quit working, how to replace items that cannot be sold regularly, and so forth.  There is also a passion and fascination that is passed between generations of people, thus allowing for historical objects to remain significant and actively used.  In “The Book,” Borsuk notes how books arise from “cultural exchange” that takes place over centuries and allowing preservation to shift between forms (1).

While there are some items better left behind a glass protector, the true art behind any creation is kept alive through consistent involvement and admiration.

Works Cited

“The Book as Object.” The Book, by Amaranth Borsuk, The MIT Press, 2018.

 

More Than A Book: Even Tragedies Have An Upside

With a price tag that even Shakespeare could get on board with in the modern age, as seen by the forty-five cent price tag on the cover, my copy of Four Tragedies by William Shakespeare remains a staple of my book collection.

70245702_2486597678290505_3399576677615927296_n-min
Four Tragedies by William Shakespeare, published by Washington Square Press.  Photo Credit: Christian David Loeffler

While my book collection is comfortably nestled in a tote at the bottom of my closet for most of the year, it is during rare occasions like these that a classic novel in its physical form gets to see the light of day.  The first thing I notice is the overwhelming smell of women’s perfume and library basement that is engraved in every single page of the collection.  Visually expressing the multiple years of shelf life since 1961 publication, a clear gradient of light beige to dark tan also stems from the center of each page.  The pages remain smooth, however, similar to how Shakespeare’s words remain prevalent today no matter how long they have aged.  Keeping the pages safe is a cover that clings to the spine like person hanging from the edge of a cliff – the grip weakens with time, warning of an impending and sudden release.

Despite the foreboding doom and deterioration of the front cover, the book retains novelty and antique qualities that keep the collection a special piece of living art.  The thin cover of the book is smooth but embedded within the surface are the grains of paper that has been processed by mechanics forgotten by modern publishers.  The cover is simplistic, with only patterns and black outlines, an artistic choice that is often abandoned in a new generation of books that use photography or famous works instead.  Printed in small text on the front cover is a price tag specific to the book and in an even smaller font on the back-left corner are the words “PRINTED IN U.S.A.”

Tempted to open the book out of the admiration of the work, I risk splitting the book in two, as most pages will not willingly remain open.  The one page that does appear to open willingly, continues to form a compromising scar along the spine.  The benefits outweigh the novelty in an age filled with with eBooks, however.  In Amaranth’s “The Book,” the author notes that “certain modes of expression…gain prominence ” and that in some cases a new form “supersedes the one that preceded it” (1).  While there was a thriving time of the press, where books had a lot of character and did not just feel like a stock item at the convenient store, the time has passed.  Even I find myself leaving my books hidden away for longer periods of time.  Due to my frequent travelling between dorms and family in recent years, I have found myself cutting back on my novel collection, keeping only favorites or special copies in my reserves and depending on eBooks for the rest.

The books that remain in my collection remind me of the important roles of books have played in my life.  As readers, we must remember books for what they have meant to us and to others in the past, making sure to never overlook the rich character hiding behind the cover.

Works Cited

“The Book as Object.” The Book, by Amaranth Borsuk, The MIT Press, 2018.

 

Back to the Storytelling Circle: Why Reading Aloud Should Remain a Habit

Remember being tucked in the covers as a loved one brought words from a favorite childhood book to life?  As listeners transform into readers, audible reading becomes unacknowledged and forgotten.  Readers having a recollection of how profound the out loud reading style can be when in contrast to silent reading.  Ironically, most readers were exposed to books and to language via spoken words but neglect the practice of verbal perusal with increasing age.

ReadingAloud-min
Image of parent reading to children.  Photo credit: https://www.aafp.org/ 

What is the real difference between reading orally and reading silently?  Both forms have benefits pertinent to the types of texts being read.  Typically, reading aloud prevents the reader from skimming over details or confusing vocabulary while ultimately keeping the reader more attentive to the story.  Silent reading has more practicality in most cases, however, with readers possessing the ability to cover text more quickly and read in situations where bystanders would condemn oral reading – even libraries promote silent reading.  In book IV of the Confessions, St. Augustine acknowledges how silence allowed Ambrose to focus on reading because Augustine and his cohorts would “go away” as not to “burden” Ambrose while he read intently (Book IV).  St. Augustine insinuates that discourse is prevented by silent reading.

Likewise, different texts may be beneficial to read in alternate forms.  A speech, for example, is written with the intention of oration and speeches are usually written after having been read aloud.  A textbook however, may be written to condense a large amount of information in a long sentence and the author may expect the reader to silently jump back and forth between multiple sections.  Author Jorge Luis Borges writes in a style that is best comprehended by the act of verbally reading the text as opposed to reading the text silently.  When reading Borges’ “On the Cult of Books” silently, the reader may be tempted to skim through the passage or read through the text with the same speed the reader would indulge in a modern fiction novel, but complications occur such as poor pacing or the perception of the text as a boring read.

What can a writer do to make a text that is more audibly appealing?  Borges uses two elements that make his writing easier to process – freedom of interpretation and selective pausing.  Borges, while he does provide background to quotes he uses in the text, the author keeps unnecessary information to a minimum and allows the quotes to shine based on the quality.  A scholarly writer would more likely focus on the significance and background of a quote as opposed to allowing the reader to draw personal conclusions on the quote.  Using an array of punctuation, Borges also breaks sentences into segments that are audibly alluring.  Certain sections of sentences are unintentionally read with emphasis by the reader, yet the text has greater impact when read in such a way.  The author goes to the effort of placing the reader in a position where it is more comfortable to read his text aloud.

Next time you indulge in a passage, consider approaching the text out load – you might just like what you find.

Works Cited

Augustine. Confessions. Circa 397 CE.

Borges, Jorge Luis. “On the Cult of Books.” 1951.