“Don’t Mean Nothing”

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?”

Photography from Vietnam War, taken from https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2015/03/the-vietnam-war-part-i-early-years-and-escalation/389054/

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 conflcit 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 strong independent publishing can help accomplish.

Second Time at Meshwork

It was cathartic, in a way, seeing the hard work our group did on the front cover of Joe O’Connor’s chapbook “Why Poetry?” translate into physical printing upon our return to Meshwork. The processes took a while to “make sense”, in terms of that one was an entirely digital work, and the other, entirely physical, but a similar mindset could be applied, as it puts objects of a process into motion, towards the completed project.

Given the mock-ups of the finished cover that our group had worked on prior to the visit, I had wondered how we would fit the cover into a physical form, as the digital mock-up was just that; digital. There are things that are difficult to account for when translating digital images to physical print, like pixels making the image come out blockier than it would if it were hand drawn. However, after seeing Haylee’s process in action, I didn’t really doubt anything after that. Haylee had us roll paint onto a canvas, which had the cover illustration of “Why Poetry?” as a stencil. The paint flooded the stencil and, with a squeegee tool, we pressed blue-green paint blends onto card-paper. The end result looked really great, and I felt a lot of pride leaving the covers out to dry after printing.

Example of Meshwork Press’ work, taken from https://www.meshworkpress.com/ourwork

Actually working with silk screening was possibly the most engaging thing we worked on this semester, as, until this class, the actual physical formatting of the text I work with and on is something I don’t really think about, and this was possibly the most hands-on example of that. The second excursion to Meshwork was possibly the most prominent example of “hey, I can do that too!” that I find so interesting about that class, and I’ll admit, I want to do it to.

With Garth Graeper

“How dependent are literary scenes and movements upon small publishers that publish their genre and style of literature, and vice versa?”

I asked Mr. Graeper this question, because I feel, in some way, especially in the current era, literary movements are tied to their context. Graeper mentioned that the publishing house he worked at for around a decade, Ugly Duckling Presse, specialized in publishing more avant-garde pieces of literature, many pieces of which were the near-polar opposite of what the Big Five publishers will even touch from lesser-known writers. As there are less bureaucratic layers between writer and publisher in small press publishing, so it is not, in theory, as difficult as larger publishers to suggest a more direct and meaningful avenue for collaboration.

I wanted to get a professional opinion on this matter, because I had felt, from my own experiences, that the more blog-friendly literary climate of the 2010’s had affected the writer-editor/publisher relationship, due to the lack of physical relationship between the participants. Of course, in reality, this is not the case; it is easier than ever to self-publish your own work, but to have a career with bountiful exposure for your own work, collaboration is vital. Graeper confirmed that participation in exposing your work (which may or may not be representative of a current literary movement or scene) can be as accessible as talking to smaller presses and reaching out to individuals within it, but one does have to develop and maintain a relationship with the individuals.

I do have some trouble not seeing writers in the idealized version I’ve developed over time, as succeeding solely on their own artistic voices alone and inspiring future writers for years on end. However, getting literature out to its audience requires resources and funds, which a publisher can provide. In addition, as can be seen from past figures like the Beat Generation’s Lawrence Ferlinghetti, outlets can themselves cultivate a scene of writers that can allow for contact between writers, which leads to more inspired work going out into the world.

Read some of Garth Graeper’s poem “Brother Cabin” here: http://sporkpress.com/poetry/?p=461

Further Into “Dream Pop Press”

In my search for a publication to research, I came back to the online zine I discovered for the previous assignment on zines: Dream Pop Press. I enjoyed what I had seen while looking over content for that project, but as I really only explored the first two or so poems and one letter to the editor, I couldn’t help but feel like there was so much more to uncover, not to mention provide wider exposure to what I feel is a style of poetry that lends itself to the format Small Press Publishing better than any other format.

“Behind Greg’s Backpack” by Patricia Callan, Cover of Dream Pop © Issue #5

I genuinely feel that the type of content being exhibited in each issue of the Dream Pop Journal that deserves to be talked about and read on a larger scale, despite its difficulty and the intentional obscurity of the publication. Dream Pop Press provides a suitable context for writers and artists whose style is both deliberately obscure and plays with the sound of language more than the meaning behind the words, and yet all its writers and contributors are united under the main theme of the Journal.

Looking at a few poets’ works confirmed as such. Jon Ruseki’s poem “Shade” conveys that idea of hazy dissociation one has while dreaming;

“we’re hungover
in our
that’s poetry
and losing it
in the sun
is the kind
of singing
I do”

Or Christine Scanlon’s “Fears Especially of This”, burying itself into the certain core of intimacy only poets can reach;

“a second-self flattened/ makes the body relaxed & spoiled”

That abstract mystery of a dream; it exists within these poems, as well as the work of so many other contributors to the Journal. I can’t wait to dig deeper into the resources available on Dream Pop Press.

All above taken from https://www.dreampoppress.net/

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.

Full shot of poem outside dorm

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.

Closeup of poem

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.”

Works Cited

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

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

“Theft, And Wandering Around Lost”

After the visit to Carnegie Library, I decided to do some browsing online for zines that discussed topics I have considerable interest in (music, and admittedly not much else). It did not take long to find a great one; I immediately found Dream Pop Journal, a zine/online journal curated around poetry, prose, and artwork heavily inspired by the musical genre of Dream Pop, and published by Dream Pop Press. Co-editor Carleen Tibbitts, in fact, describes their publication as possessing “a Cocteau Twins-esque aesthetic”, and the published works on exhibit in each issue are certainly representative of that inspiration.

(Quick music nerd tangent, because I wouldn’t forgive myself if I talked about this zine without also discussing Dream Pop. Dream Pop, as a genre, explores the two equally-extensive artistic avenues of massive, swirling sonic space, and free-from, often deliberately light-on-meaning lyrical abstraction. The movement was initiated in the mid/late 80’s, and was heavily inspired by late-70’s/early-80’s post-punk groups [especially the Cure, the Smiths, and Joy Division], as well as the works of avant-garde ambient composers [Harold Budd, Brian Eno, etc.], and psychedelic music groups from the 60’s. Some of the more notable acts to come from the scene include Slowdive, Galaxie 500, My Bloody Valentine, and the aforementioned Cocteau Twins, as well as modern revival groups like Beach House, Japanese Breakfast, and Deerhunter. All strongly recommended for any fan of slower, spacier music. OK, tangent over.)

Theft, and Wandering Around Lost”- Cocteau Twins, 1993. ©

So, why mention Dream Pop Press (other than to shoehorn in an excuse to talk about bands I like)? In addition to being, in my opinion, a great example of what content zines can provide that major publications cannot (i.e., Issue #1 Contributer Kia Alice Gloom’s excellent poem “One Should Not Ordinarily Tell Students Applying for Writing Courses That They are Biodegrading”), the initial issue of the publication’s Dream Pop Journal includes a Letter from the Editors that, conveniently, effectively summarizes my own personal opinions towards the medium of zines.

“The poetry I was exposed to in college and graduate school was, for the most part, not abstract, otherworldly, or lyrically challenging,” says Tibbits, on her and Co-Editor Isobel O’Hare’s inspiration for starting the zine. “I tried and tried to force myself to write in this way, and then completely stopped for a few years because so much of what I encountered didn’t line up with how my mind processed the world.”

“The Flying Brain” by Dan Nielson, cover art of Dream Pop Journal Issue #1. ©

“That’s the wonderful thing about the writing community,” adds Tibbits. “…it’s inclusive in that there are always journals, venues, and presses starting up in order to allow more non-traditional and othered styles of writing to flourish.” Publications like Dream Pop Press are important, in that the art and writing people take in and produce is, more often than not, tied to their character. If one feels that there is no room in artistic discussion for the work they love and create, they could feel like there is no room for them, either. The specificity and variety of the zines provided at the Carnegie Library really show how much representation matters, that the sects of society that don’t fit into an idealized mainstream image do have important things to say. Additionally, zines’ near complete side-stepping of the standard (and heavily exclusionary) publication process for artistic work shows that those sects don’t need to rely on the mass’ assistance to say those important things.

Of course, universal acceptance doesn’t always translate to accessibility, which O’Hare practically admits in their section of the Letter: “The work we’ve chosen is, we feel, the best representation of our vision for a non-narrative, experimental space rooted in play.” As a result, Dream Pop Press’ content is very in-line with its editors’ intent, and often offers no olive branch to those not yet warm to this style of writing. Zines, as a concept, are deliberately and explicitly not for mass appeal, and their specificity can be intimidating to those unacquainted with the subcultures of such.

No, Dream Pop Press’s output is intended for an audience who already existed previously, but didn’t yet have Dream Pop Journal finally read about and write about their subculture. And, honestly, that’s why I think zines, as a concept, are perfectly fine the way they are; they exist because they can exist and because they need to exist. I am sure there is someone out there who feels isolated and unimportant, but, upon discovery of zines like Dream Pop Press, will then find community in the thousands of others like them who share their passions. That someone has been waiting their entire life to read “One Should Not Ordinarily Tell Students Applying for Writing Courses That They are Biodegrading”, and thanks to zines, they can.

Visit Dream Pop Press and read Dream Pop Journal here: https://www.dreampoppress.net/

Works Cited:

Cocteau Twins. Four-Calendar Café. Capitol Records, 1993.

O’Hare, Isobel, and Carleen Tibbitts. “Letter from the Editors.” Dream Pop Journal, vol. 1, no. 1. Dream Pop Press, 2017.


There is only so much I feel I can authoritatively comment on in regards to letterpress, even with the visit to Meshwork. I’ve seen a documentary on the subject and visited a place of business; as much as I enjoyed both, I don’t feel I’m adequately familiar with the terminology and theories of such to give an informed opinion. However, there was one thing evident in both events that I understood clearly; how the artistry is manifested through the process. When Haylee adjusted the little restraints for printing paper on the underlying parchment, without so much as a ruler for mathematical precision, her knowledge of the craft and extensiveness of her own method shone through. As such; very few would be able to adjust on that minuscule of increments just by eye, unless they were absolutely sure of what they were doing.

Arrangement of Letterpress Board Prior to Printing, taken from printmediacentr.com ©

One can take all the writing classes in the world, learn of literary structures, and writing methods, genres, meters, influences, etc… And yet, it is nearly impossible, during the physical process of writing, to adequately explain the minor, but still very present. sensations one experiences when deciding whether to use “who” or “whom”, or if their main character prefers coffee or water. The subtleties of a craft are only so teachable, which makes dedication to that craft all the more admirable. Ambition is what makes activity more than a hobby, and true ambition can really only be felt by one’s self. It’s your dream; how will you make it so?

What Is Felt With A Book

I hold the book in my hand, and the first thing I notice is the texture. A smooth plastic laminate covers the book’s cover, wrapping the front and back in a clear, ever-so-slightly reflective layer. I run my thumbs and forefingers against it; the expected inertia plastic possesses exerts itself, and I feel the pull against my skin as I move my digits. The laminate holds the thin wrapping of the cover art in place, although not much effort is required to remove it to observe the fiber-ribbed, solid peach-colored cover underneath. I don’t know why one would want the object to remain uncovered; the only information for the reader is on the spine, and such information is much more readily apparent and artfully presented on the wrapping.

I then notice the weight of the book in my hand; it’s hard cover is weighty, but not heavy. I feel as though as when I lift it, I am pushing my feet through dry hot sand on river beaches, or gnashing with my molars through a well-done cut of steak. It feels… real in my hands. Paperbacks never felt much more than simple expanded class texts, like something that was mere information passed out for the sake of objective accomplishment. Of course, I know this is false, but the hard cover… it fits in my hands a way that a paperback never will. The way it stays closed by its own accord, almost as if rests as a brick, it feels like a craftsman’s tool almost.

The book’s minimal art resembles, if not the contents of the book itself, at least the contents of the title. The Pearl Is a Hardened Sinner: Notes from Kindergarten. The text is scratchy and messy in appearance; it is most likely purposefully messy, to give the impression of a teacher’s hastily written down notes in the middle of a class period. Chalk. That’s what it is; the flawed edges of the letters, the slight fog of white hiding across the stark black background, the light-brown and stained border, which could possibly be a wooden frame. It feels… strangely sad. Chalkboards in my youth were always… well, not always entertaining, but stimulating. The information written down was always displayed adjacent to schedules for the semester’s multitude of activity, or multicolored mini-lessons of stick figures learning their a’s, b’s, c’s, one’s, two’s, three’s, and ooh’s and ahh’s. Now though, isolated and minimal… lonely.

I think back to Borsuk’s The Book, when the author voiced Greece’s relationship to the medium, saying “in ancient Greece, literature was primarily a social activity, with audiences gathering for performances of epic poetry and drama,” (55). I then think back to the promise offered by The Pearl; are we simply called to recount the document of a lonely educator? Or are we asked to join him in the artful conversation of his memories? I ask, “Has the medium changed, or has interaction?”

Works Cited

Kiesel, Stanley. The Pearl Is a Hardened Sinner: Notes from Kindergarden. Scribners, 1968

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

On Music and Letterpress

My favorite piece of music memorabilia that I have in my possession is a bootleg R.E.M. concert poster. I purchased the poster in my hometown from a now-defunct gift shop, the Apple Tree, a fine establishment that catered to many a hippie and indie kid (such as myself). The design was immediately appealing; the name of the band, bold and professional, resting comfortably prominent at the top, above a striking image of the band members, and beneath, the information fanatics obsess over. The date still stands out to me; August 13, 1984, at the Meadowlands, New Jersey, “Home of the Giants”. R.E.M. was touring their second album, Reckoning, at that time, my personal favorite of the band’s. Every time I look at the poster, I can almost hear the beautiful jangling guitar of “Pretty Persuasion” or the humming bass of “Harborcoat” ring out in my head.

R.E.M. Bootleg Concert Poster, self-taken

Judging from the appearance, the poster was most likely produced with letterpress (or a method that emulates the style of such). The letters are arranged with bold, stark solid colors, with varying fonts and sizes. If you look at other concert posters from the era, a lot of them share a similar efficiency in their design; using appealing colors, presenting the necessary information, and sometimes providing art that is engaging by itself. The bands’ music can now mean that much more to the fans through the simple presence of culture. The lyrics of the songs aren’t printed out on the R.E.M. poster, but my relationship with the music is still tied to the poster regardless, in that it allows me to mentally attach a form of physical art to the music itself. The medium of music can often be alienating in that we rarely interact with it in any way other than hearing it, but the physical and societal culture tie that medium to the familiarity of community.

Letterpress and independent music share an appeal of the traditional; the mediums may be technically obsolete, but there is an artistry inherent in both that still holds interest to this day and age. The demographic of both participate in such because they actively seek them out for enjoyment. I love that poster not so much for nostalgia (I was born long after R.E.M. were popular), but for a sense of belonging; just as letterpress allows for a deeper understanding of(and maybe even a development of a relationship to) poetry, it can also allow fans of music to further develop a meaningful relationship with the band and the music, and to understand why they love them. It helped me understand why I love R.E.M. so much.

Even though the poster is fake, and R.E.M. never played that gig.

Thoughts on the Elements of Silent Reading

The term “Writer’s Voice”, in my experience, is passed around quite liberally in discussions of literature and writing, as there is an implied assumption of what it contributes to the conversation. On some level I agree that’s necessary; the common concept behind that assumption is simple to grasp. Even in the acts of transcription or translation, the human behind the pen or keyboard influences which (if any) spelling errors are made, or what words and phrases one keeps in one’s head are reflective of the words that one hears from another language. The writer of a text, in my opinion, will never be capable of true universal objectivity in their voice because that writer’s person is the one performing the action.

However, as Jorge Luis Borges states in his essay, “On the Cult of Books”, “a book does not select its readers,” and written word inherently exists, at least partially, passively. A world-experienced writer can contribute himself to the creation of text, but that text cannot contribute to universality without a human to channel it through to that. Just as a writer, too, puts themselves into the composition of text, the orator of a text will contribute their own unique characteristics (the feeling and texture unique to that person’s voice, their ability to fluently read that text without mistakes, the amount of energy that is evident in their speech) in the recital of that text.

“Saint Ambrose” by Fransisco Goya, taken from brushwiz.com

Saint Augustine, in Book VI of Confessions, describes his mentor, Saint Ambrose, as willingly isolated while reading, wondering if his silent reading was “perhaps to protect himself in case he had a hearer interested,” Reading the text silently, the quote could potentially come across as critical of Ambrose, as Augustine lists the possibilities for communication and mutual learning that could come from interjections of listeners. Equally as likely, though, is the implication of admiration, as Augustine later states Ambrose “had a good reason for what he did.” Whether intentional or not, the ambiguity is an element of the text, an element that does not change, short of post-compositional editing. Read that quote aloud, though, and the ambiguity that is an element of the text is removed, as the reader’s voice will exemplify both characteristics of the person reading it and the qualities of the text that the reader (consciously or not) took from the original text and introduced into their own reading of.

So, is there an element of certain texts that benefits silent reading as opposed to doing so vocally? Context would say so. Books are not, in and of themselves, performative; one cannot do anything reading silently but absorb. By reading aloud, we now introduce the factors of active observation and demonstrated interpretation. Some texts benefit from those factors, but, as Borges suggests in his essay, the written word contains a sacred permanence outside of human contact, which can be a genuine good.

John Rogan

Works Cited:

Augustine. Confessions. 397.

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