Trying to answer the question, of Why Poetry?

by Jacob Snizik

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 Not only was this a rare, delightful circumstance, to speak with an author about his raw unpublished work, it was also practical.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.

The finished product on display at the book launch December 4th

Putting a Front and Back on an Art Piece

by Jacob L Snizik

This past Wednesday, my group and I were given the honor of returning to the wonderful Mess Work Press in Wilkinsburg to fulfill part of our obligation as not only publishers, but printers of our collaboration work with poet Joe O’Connor, turning his piece “Why Poetry” into a physical booklet.

For close to three hours, my group and I churned out 300 or more book covers that will eventually envelope Joe O’Connor final printed work, we literally had to book end someone’s hope and dreams, and as a fellow writer, I found great pride in that. We printed the covers by hand, with ink that the print shop would normally use for their own hand made publications. The ink needed to be pressed by hand onto and through a premade film that held on it, the cover image, leaving only the cover paper with the image, freshly inked, on it.

It was labor, and by the end of the whole process everyone had tired hands and arms, I know I did, but it was a labor done with care and respect. Ever since the author came to us with this proposition, I’ve been truly honored to be part of team of college students that an adult poet has enough trust and faith in to help bring his creation into the world. It’s been a journey and a very unique experience, I’ve had to do things I never thought I’d have to do, and there’s so much more work to be done.

The greatest take away I’ve taken from this printing experience as a whole is that I’ve been given the chance to see all the work it takes to bring a book into print. As a writer, I always thought, a tad selfishly but while also being real, that the publishing process is someone else’s work, and that somehow the book as you’d see it at the book store you just appear. I’ve learned that that is far from the truth, and now that I know that, I love being immersed in the experience.

I can’t wait to finally hold the booklets in my hand and to read the fresh poetry.

Getting in touch with the Real Thing

by Jacob L. Snizik

Last Wednesday I was given the privilege of Skyping with someone who’s not only a published writer and poet, but is ingrained in the New York City small publishing scene. This man was Garth Graeper, and in between his two publications By Deer Light published by Greying Ghost and Into the Forest Engine published by Projective Industries, he spent years working for the small press Ugly Duckling Presse, out of Brooklyn, as an editor.

During the conversation via Skype, my group and I were tasked with asking him questions about the business, publishing, editing, whatever we wanted really. This was my question.

“Do you ever get offers from other publishers to maybe buy you out, and if so, how do you resist in order to keep your publisher small, or, would you welcome expansion?”

I thought of this question when I remembered scenes from shows like Mad Men and movies like There Will Be Blood. At some point, the big powerful business will come after the little guy with a suitcase full of cash, hoping they’ll fold under the temptation.

With everything we’ve read about these small presses, and how all of them seem to get into the business because they want to make their own way, do their own publishing, get back to the basics, really, make their own art, this question seems out of place. But, I still thought of that in case it does happen, since business is business after all.

Graeper’s answer to this, one that made sense, is that the big publishers are too wrapped up in their own dealings and functioning to be worried about presses like Ugly Duckling. There is also the other factor that what a small press will publish: off the wall poetry, writings, and visuals, are things that a big publishing company would not want to publish in the first place. They are too concerned with publishing the classics, poets that have been gone for decades if not longer.

Another answer he gave to a different question, what we could do in the publishing world if our “English” interests don’t involve teaching, was very insightful. Part of the reason I took my minor, and why I’ve done all the writing I have since I was 14, is because of the aspirations I have to eventually get published. Graeper went on at length about the options open to all of us, we could write, but also edit, work in publications, both small and big, and find poetry work for multiple publishers in multiple cities all over the east coast, even though his expertise was in New York, though he had recently moved to Pittsburgh.

Overall I loved the talk, it reminded me why I love writing and that everyone in my group, as well as I, have a bright future waiting for us if we choose to enter that wing of the literary world.

Since the link from the article we received won’t load on here for some reason, here’s the only image that was part of it, this article was the intro about Garth Graeber from Brooklyn Poets that we were given to read and overview before talking to him.

Northwest Muses

by Jacob Snizik

Since I have family out there, and since it’s often a more artsy market than the ones here in the east, I went looking for my poetry journal out in the Pacific Northwest, and I found a very interesting and exciting one.

The journal is called Moss: a journal of the Pacific Northwest. It is a publication based in and available all throughout the PNW, from Seattle to Portland to Spokane and even down into Los Angeles. In Seattle and Spokane (both in Washington state) it is available in their public libraries as a publication and within it, is all the fiction works as well as poetry from all the locals writers on the rise in that region of the country.

The piece that caught my eye while I was going through the site was the most recent piece, publishing just on September 10th, in their “New Moss” subsection. It’s by the local poet John Englehardt and is titled, “Be Okay, It Will Be Okay”.

I will leave a link to the piece at the bottom of the post in case anyone wants to read it for themselves.

As far as analysis of the first page, and I’m not going to spoil anything, the author paints quite a picture, and it turns out that this is a short story, not a poem, but it’s still just as fun to read. The boldness of the header, after reading the story, can be seen as heralding the initial action, but again you’ll have to get into it yourself to understand.

I really think I’ve found a great resource here and I look forward to discovering everything this publication has to offer.

Citation and Link:

Moss. A Journal of the Pacific Northwest.,

Conversations we don’t get to hear

by Jacob L. Snizik

For my critical response, I thought first to one of the zines I saw whenever we went to the museum. What I’ve written isn’t a zine, it’s more like a comic, but what I did take from the zine is to have non-human characters in my story.

When thinking of lines and points from Borsuk’s The Book, I found one by Stephane Mallarme. “Everything in the world exists in order to end up as a book”

In the zine I looked at, which I can’t really remembered the content of, there were a pair of little birds, talking to each other about something. The lock screen on my computer features the mountain range that runs through Patagonia in the south Argentina, a range that ends in the Tierra del Fuego, or the Land of Fire to the extreme south. ending with the ocean.

Two animals that live in the area are the Wandering Albatross, and the Magellanic Penguin. I used them as my protagonists and they explain to each other the environments that live in as you can see at the top. They are separate, while still inhabiting the same Argentinian ecosystem.

Is my object a book, I say yes. it has a front, back and contexts in the middle, and the only reason it isn’t bound is because it’s too small to run a staple through. The material I used was white gold card stock, since I didn’t want to use normal paper but I did want something light enough to be able to write and draw on with ease. If I had an even further abstract connection, the material and its feel in a way connect to the rough and wild setting I’m writing about.

The book itself is plain, and the blankness of the pencil I used makes the reader focus, I would imagine, on the dialogue on the paper. As far as an audience, I’m not sure who would be interested in this. Despite the likely assumption, I don’t mean for this to be a comment on our impact on the environment. I imagine it being like the animals in The Jungle Book, people are foreign to them, the penguin and the albatross live without man, and because of that, the holder of the land is completely lost to them. The main characters being animals, they speak very simply and plainly to each other. Their conversation is a series of explanations ending with a speculation about their world.

Again to quote Borsuk, but this time directly, “Artists’ books have taken myriad shapes over the years, so what follows are a series of examples that draw our attention to the specific affordances of the book to worth noting.” My book is a physical book, with two characters in a setting with a discussion that begins and ends. What this exercise in creation shows us all, is that the term “book” can be as loose or rigid as the author, designer, and publisher intends it to be.

Expression: in a small package

Reflection on the publishing style known as Zine. By Jacob L. Snizik

On a visit to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland, I was able to discover with our group a form of print that I had never seen before. It was called a zine, it was like a pamphlet, small, staple bound, only probably ten or more pages long. Sometimes the author’s name was included, but mostly they were anonymous.

There were some advantages to this format, the largest being absolute freedom. Most of the zines were self published, meaning they were simply made: easier for rapid production and rapid consumption by the public and the author’s target audience. The author has complete authority on what they write and what the zine looks like before it is published. One disadvantage I found as the reader, is that since the author doesn’t have the “check” mechanism of an editor or an overseeing publisher, it means that what is printed in the zines can be pretty edgy and immersed in the counter-culture. What I mean is, as the reader, I felt at certain points that the author was lumping me into their definition of “The Man” and then at that point, I thought, “Okay man, I get that you’re passionate and that you’re mad, but what exactly are you mad about, because parts of this just seem like you’re spouting off with no clear direction”.

Other zines well more factual, but also in a way that wouldn’t appeal to people working for a normal magazine or newspaper. They wrote about subjects like actually living day to day with mental illness, and eye witness reports to the murder rates throughout Pennsylvania, written by an author who was probably in middle school still because their handwriting needed some work. It was interesting to have first hand exposure to these fringe topics, from people who have lived it instead of just some news reporter coming in and reporting about it.

The first Zine I read, written by an anonymous member of one of the Canadian Pacific Northwest Indian Tribes. They were very frustrated, rebellious, and made accusations at everyone, especially the Canadian Government and the Commonwealth, still ruled by the Queen.

These zines reminded me, in the end, of the voices that aren’t normally heard, as they are all over the world. It reminded me of something like Thomas Paine’s Common Sense published before the American Revolution. the pamphlet was a major spark for starting and fueling the flames of revolution against the British. It, and his follow up work published during the revolution, American Crisis, were small little pamphlets that were printed quickly and cheaply, spreading like wildfire across the American colonies that inspired many to call for change.

The zines have that power within them, all they need is for the right people to get their hands on them.

Cited: “Thomas Paine: Common Sense.”, Independence Hall Association,

Passion, through Paper and Iron.

By Jacob L. Snizik

Have you ever been in the presence of a machine, one that is older than you, much older, and see it work just as efficiently as the day it was made. Well, last Wednesday, on our Wilkinsburg excursion, we did exactly that.

Our group was taken to a press works and were shown the workings of an old fashioned cast iron printer, one electrically outfitted but still functioning as it did when it was made more than a century ago. It was complex, and yet very simple at the same time. The machine was set running, the wheel turned, the press was set in motion, the rollers were covered in ink from the ink disc, the paper was inserted, the “press” occurred and the printed page was left there for the printer to pull out from the machine.

We were taught how to set the type with furniture into the iron form, a process much more complicated than just typing and printing on the computer, but then again, there were something hand crafted about it, like working with pottery or making a great drawing or painting or anything else artistic.

I found the form of a comedy and tragedy mask, one I spied while we were being explained the workings of the printer. With it my group and I found a crown and we set the print into the iron mold. We affixed the furniture, and when we checked that it was solid and would hold, we gave it the to the printer and she made four copies for us.

Here is mine. The whole experience was so splendid and I highly recommend the place we went to, the woman who runs it is very professional and her work is very beautiful.

Never thought of a name for it, or at least I haven’t yet.

The Art of Letterpress

By Jacob L. Snizik

The documentary film Pressing On: The Letterpress Film is a fascinating piece about the industry of old fashioned letterpress which is still surviving in small parts of the US, now as more of an art form since the larger print medium has been taken over by electronic production and methods of fast, cheap printing and copying.

When I started watching the movie, I honestly thought, “why are these people doing this? This technology is obsolete and I don’t get why these people are wasting their time.” As it unfolded though, I learned that everyone interviewed were artists, and that their tools were no different than the brush of a painter or the chisel of a sculptor. Since the printing world has gone past the letterpress, those who still engage in it are now specialists who’s work is hard to come by, like a great tailor or a carpenter or a stonemason. They care about what they’re doing and they’re obsessed with putting forth the best product they can for their customers and patrons.

As a writer, the whole process of printing like this can easily be glossed over and placed into a “that’s someone else’s job” category within the publishing process. In a way that is true, and in some ways I still think that, but that doesn’t mean that the pressing and printing that the people in the movie did should not be studied and admired. It is a higher craft, one that should be shown to people in mainstream publishing and printing today so they know where they came from, and to never forget the value of honest, hard work that you use both your hands for; work where you get your hands covered in ink in order to create something on paper that will last as long as the ink does. I found the film very informative and I highly recommend it. It shows that quality still matters, from the ink color to the font and the shade of the paper, the work the letterpress produces is more crafted and refined, and shows to the onlooker and the buyer that they are buying something that not only will last, but that has shades of love and care pressed in with the ink.

Discovering the Troubles through Print

By Jacob L. Snizik

This book is medium in size but heavier than one might think it is when you pick it up. It contains 417 pages within the covers. When I pick it up, I see the author, Gerry Adams, and think of why he wrote this book. For those who don’t know, from 1983 to 2018, Gerry Adams was the President of the Sinn Fein political party in Northern Ireland. Their goals as a party were, and still are to a degree, to unite the Emerald Isle into a single republic, free from the influence of the United Kingdom. Since the 1920s, the north of Ireland as been part of the UK while the “south” has maintained its freedom, first as the Irish Free State and later as the Republic of Ireland.

From 1969 to 1998, there was a sectarian war raging in the North that occasionally spilled over into the south of Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the European continent; it was known as The Troubles, a rather nonchalant name for such a violent time. Adams lived through that time, dodging bullets and having to speak at political functions hours after bombs had gone off. As I flip through the book, I see pictures from the conflict; pictures of him with political leaders like Bill Clinton, Albert Reynolds the Irish Prime Minister and Senator Ted Kennedy. There are images of dilapidated buildings littered with bullet holes, bombed out homes, and people running from gunfire at cemeteries when forces loyal to the British would pull drive byes at Irish Republican Army (IRA) funerals. The text is small and black, it’s very too the point, just like the contents it reveals. On the back, the book is praised by reviewers from The Tampa Tribune, The New York Times, and The Richmond Times Dispatch. The quote on the front from The New York Times Review that is seen at the top of the article is profoundly true. From the Hunger Strikes of 1981 where the book begins to The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 that ended The Troubles, Adams and his people are always focused on ending the conflict, talking to the British and the British loyalists, to try and find a middle ground that will suffice all parties involved, especially those in the IRA, who seek to take Ireland back from the British by force.

When I found this book over Spring Break this past semester when I was visiting family in the Pacific Northwest, I had already written an historiography on the IRA and the Troubles. The book grabbed me, I knew of Adams but I had no idea how involved he was in the peace process. I see the Irish Flag in the background, which was illegal to fly in the North during the conflict, as a symbol of hope and as a goal, one that melds in very well with the title, A Farther Shore.

If one was ever wondered why there is a border in Ireland, they should read this book.