Why Poetry?

The more important question is – why not? After attending the book launch last Wednesday I am even more convinced that we all need poetry. Joe O’Connor’s unique way of finding the meaning and beauty in the everyday moments – and even in the moments that are far from beautiful – has inspired me to be more mindful of the world around me. It’s okay to slow down, to wonder, to be content with the ordinary. Our lives move at breakneck speed. We are obsessed with the next big thing, we are obsessed with work, we are obsessed with striving until we can’t anymore – intent on gathering as many things as possible. And these ambitions are not always bad, but when they go unbalanced they can be debilitating. Pride is dangerous. Poetry is a remedy

As Joe said at the reading, poets must be humble. Poets can offer a counter-perspective to a blind world and that is just as impactful and influential to our culture as advancements in technology and medicine. Joe stressed the importance of listening “with the ear of your heart” – which Saint Benedict iterates in his Holy Rule. The more we read poetry, the less deaf we become. The more we read poetry, the less we feel alone. Joe declares that “There are three truths: we are lost, we are human, we have everything we need.”

Joe O’Connor. Instagram @eulalia.books

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have met Joe O’Connor and to have contributed to the making of his first chapbook. I added to Eulalia’s Why Poetry? by designing a book announcement flyer. I and my classmate, Irina, worked in Adobe Illustrator – a program we navigated together since neither of us had previous experience. It took time to learn it, but soon we started to craft a layout and design that we felt portrayed Joe O’Connor’s poetry and mirrored the look of the cover. I was happy to design something that played such an important role in the launch. Most of all, I am thankful the experiences I have had in this class. I have learned so much about the ins and outs of small press publishing and I have enjoyed the hands-on work. There is only so much a student can learn while sitting at a desk, but by leaving the classroom and getting our hands dirty we not only learned , but we experienced. That is invaluable.

Silk Screening at Meshwork

            Last week our class had the pleasure of working with Haylee Ebersole, founder of Meshwork Press, once again in her studio located in Wilkinsburg, PA. This time around, instead of working in letterpress, Haylee taught us how to screen print using silkscreening. Screen printing is a hands-on alternative to digital printing, where “One screen (mesh stencil) is used for each color to be printed – screens must be lined up (or registered) and printed on test sheets to ensure that all of the colors line up correctly. Inks are then pushed through the screens one color at a time onto the apparel. Finally, each piece is run through a large dryer to cure the inks” (“The Screen Printing Process”). But, this wasn’t just an exercise in creativity, these screen prints were made with a purpose.

            Eulalia books, “publishes one book per year in its Joe O’Connor Poetry Series, which is dedicated to cultivating the poets who live in the Laurel Highlands or who are Saint Vincent alums, who have never published a book before” (Eulalia Books). This series is beginning with O’Connor’s poetry chapbook entitled, Why poetry? and our class is responsible for producing it. After meeting with Joe and discussing the contents of the chapbook, students got to work on designing the cover, which was created by a fellow Saint Vincent College alumnus. Our excursion last Wednesday was dedicated to bringing the covers into existence.

            Thanks to Haylee’s skill and guidance, our class quickly got to work, splitting up into teams of 3 or 4 people per screen printer. Because of the hands-on nature of screen printing, each cover is unique and delightfully imperfect. Each cover shows that a real human being put themselves into it. While the color scheme was consistently blues and greens the shades differed – a testament to the collective effort of the class and the individual work of the student. In all, the process of making the covers for Why Poetry? was just plain fun, in a lot of ways, childlike, and getting our hands dirty felt good.

Visit:

https://www.meshworkpress.com/

https://www.eulaliabooks.com/

“About.” Eulalia Books, https://www.eulaliabooks.com/about.

“The Screen Printing Process.” Screen Printing Process, How Screen Printing Works,             https://www.threadbird.com/the-screen-printing-process.

A Discussion with Garth Graeper

Last Wednesday, our class had a discussion with Garth Graeper, a writer and editor, who worked in both the small press world and the Big 6 arena. His knowledge about publishing in these two different atmospheres was eye-opening and his talent as an editor and passion as writer was inspiring. In large part, our conversation revolved around the ins and outs of the publishing world. Graeper detailed his life at Ugly Duckling Presse, a small press publishing company based in Brooklyn, New York. One thing that I found the most interesting about the differences between working at a place like Penguin Random House, one of the largest publishers in the world, and Ugly Duckling is that there is no middle man. The author’s work goes directly from writer to editor at a small press, whereas, the author’s work has to go through an agent at a large press. Interestingly enough, according to Graeper, agents do not ever get in contact with small presses, especially if that small press is intent on publishing poetry. Poetry is not economic enough.

But, at the core of a small press is the idea of forming a community, of introducing people to a world of poems. Small presses are also essential to giving a voice to writers who are completely invisible to large presses. For example, Graeper told us the story of how he discovered Jeannine Marie Pitas. While at Ugly Duckling, Garth found her translation of The History of Violets in a pile of unsolicited submission, a translation that the small press went on to publish. This fantastic and artful translation would have never been touched by a big 6 publisher. But, within the small press community book-making is hands-on, book-making is serious for reasons other than making money.

That is not to say that all the books large presses publish are lacking soul or meaning, but conveying the depth of the artist is not their primary goal. Small presses, even large small presses like Ugly Duckling, goal is to circulate meaningful and innovative writing to a specific community of, sometimes marginalized, people. They do not create books to appeal to the masses, but they create books to satisfy a need, to get their hands dirty, to create for the sake of creating.

After listening to Graeper share his perspective on the publishing world, as a whole, I think that there is a beautiful complexity within the world of publishing, and there is room for both large and small presses, because both are needed.

Learn more about Garth here: https://brooklynpoets.org/poet/garth-graeper/

William Carlos Williams and New Directions

Image result for william carlos williams the red wheelbarrow
Image courtesy of “Between the Lines” blog

This poem entitled, “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams, is one of my favorite poems and possibly one of the most well-known examples of imagism. William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), was one of the prime players in the imagist movement and aimed to create a experimental form of poetry that was primarily American in flavor – unlike his contemporaries, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, who adhered more to European techniques. Ordinary people and the examination of everyday life was normally at the center of his poetry. Williams began to gain recognition in the 1920s, but his work became increasingly well-known through the efforts of Allen Ginsberg and The Beats. Williams’s poetry can be described as accessible to the everyday person and open, and some of his most famous works include – Kora in Hell (1920); Spring and All (1923); Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962), which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize; the five-volume epic Paterson (1963, 1992); and Imaginations (1970) (poets.org).

William Carlos Williams was a part of the Imagism movement, which began in England in the early 1900s. The movement opposed Romanticism and Victorian poetry, and instead focused on simplistic imagery, clarity, and acute attention to the visual. Ezra Pound is often credited with founding this movement. Imagist poems are normally free-verse in structure and short in length, focusing on concrete imagery and foregoing abstractions. The idea behind Imagism seems to be very similar to the idea behind the concept of minimalism (poets.org).

Up until the 1930s, Williams poetry was published in small journals, but when James Laughlin founded New Directions publishing, the author and up-and-coming publisher teamed up. Williams’s poetry was published through New Directions ever since. Laughlin even described Williams as “the cornerstone” of his publishing business. New Directions published the first collection of William Carlos Williams poetry, which sought to convey the lives of the working class and immigrants (“William Carlos Williams”).

For my term paper, I would like to take a closer look at William Carlos Williams’s poetry, especially his influence in the Imagism movement, and his involvement and relationship with New Directions.

Poets.org, Academy of American Poets, https://poets.org/poet/william-carlos-williams.

Poets.org, Academy of American Poets, https://poets.org/text/brief-guide-imagism.

“William Carlos Williams.” New Directions Publishing, 8 Sept. 2011,             https://www.ndbooks.com/author/william-carlos-williams/.

An Objective look at my Book Object

This book object is primarily made of canvas, which has been painted with acrylic paint to look like a night sky or a galaxy. Scraps of paper are attached to the canvas with tape. Each scrape serves a purpose – the largest scrap has the title, “Masochist”, painted on it, the scrap below it shows the author’s name, the two folded scraps display the words of the poem, and to read the poem, you have to open the fold. The poem is only a few lines long, but has a clear message and theme. So, is this object a book?

According to Ulises Carrion, in “The New Art of Making Books”, “A book is a sequence of spaces. Each of these spaces is perceived at a different moment…”. It seems that the words on display in this object would fall under Carrion’s notion. But, Carrion also proposes that a “new book” is not just an “accidental container” for words, but that a writer of a new book must “actualize its ideal space-time by means of the creation of a parallel sequence of signs, be it linguistic or otherwise”. Under this assumption, my object seems to be a new book, more focused on the sensory interaction between “text” and reader.

The materials that I used to create this book object are materials more often used in works that lend themselves towards the visual. A canvas board and acrylic paint are very rarely used in the making of a manufactured book, and are especially not a material that big 6 publisher would use to mass produce novels. Scraps of notebook paper and scotch tape are also not typically found among of the materials in a publishing house. The techniques I used to construct these materials together would not, under industry standard, be considered professional and I have virtually no credibility when it comes to painting or writing. However, as Borsuk points out in “The Book as Idea”, “The artist’s book … can be purposefully illegible, its pages can be torn or carefully cut … It can be a sculptural object … It can be bound or unbound …”(115-116).

The materials I used were familiar to me – I paint often as a pass time or hobby, and the paper scraps where from my personal notebook. The words of my poem are, likewise, very meaningful to me. The materials of this book object and what they convey are personal. Does this mean that the desired reader of my book object is only me? I don’t think so. I think that the personal nature of my book object invites the reader to reflect on first: what the materials could mean for them, second: how the language of the poetry relates to the object it is affixed to, and third: what this means as a whole for the reader.

Borsuk, Amaranth. “The Book as Idea .” The Book , The MIT Press , 2018, pp. 116–117.

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

Zines: Literary Authenticity

Before our class excursion to Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, I knew very little about zines. This small and eccentric branch of the literary world was hidden from me, not even on my radar. In a world where big publishing dominates the shelves, and where publishers dictate and censor what will and will not appeal to consumers my lack of knowledge about zines is typical, an oversight I share with thousands, if not millions, of other readers nationwide. But, just because zines are obscure does not mean they are unimportant or worthy of neglect. In my opinion, the zine is the exact opposite, an expression that beckons readers to pay attention.

While looking through the collection of zines, I was amazed at the variety of topics that zines covered – from arts and crafts to shark attacks, from personal memories to anarchy, the zines covered such a wide scope of human emotion and experience. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a zine out there for everyone. But, one question that kept coming to mind was, “Why?” What compelled these creators to produce these objects, objects that I felt were like a person mind made tangible or incarnate.

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Dig Deep” , a zine created by Heather in 2010. Carnegie Library, Pittsburgh, PA

All of the zines at the library were produced without the help of any editor, publisher, or distributor, which meant that the creators either could not get their ideas approved by the powers-that-be or knew better than to bother. These creators live outside the box of publishing, in an underground community where ideas and opinions and expressions are not priced and packaged, but freely shared and traded. “Publication” in the zine world is simply creation.

Perhaps this freedom is what zines and indie poetry have in common. Although the two are different in execution, the ideas behind them are related. Both zines and indie poetry seem to be about creating art for the sake of art. There is no ulterior motive, not much of a financial gain, if any, and no fame or glory involved – in some cases, especially in the zine world, the author is basically anonymous. The purpose of zines and indie poetry is to express and create, even if the creation is not in high demand, or any demand at all. Both worlds have built communities for artists, creators, and writers who did not or could not fit inside boxes big publishing companies had created for them. Both reveal an authenticity, a genuineness that is hard to find on the shelves of mainstream bookstores and this authenticity speaks to the deepest parts of us.

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A page from Heather’s zine, “Dig Deep”

Visit Carnegie Library: https://www.carnegielibrary.org/

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.

Haylee Ebersole’s Studio, photo courtesy of Eulalia Books

Visit: meshworkpress.com

The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. 3: 1939-1944 (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1971)

More than Words

As an English major, I am often asked to analyze the text inside of a book, the meaning of the hodgepodge words and phrases printed onto the page. This kind of analyzing is a mental exercise that sometimes involves intuition, but rarely the senses. I cannot recall a time in recent memory that I have been asked to analyze a book using my visual, tactile, and olfactory senses. But, I suppose this analysis could actually be a helpful exercise, as the meaningfulness of the object of the book often is overlooked.

In the modern world we live in, books are a common fixture. Books are everywhere, they are a part of our culture, they are in our homes, our schools, and even, sometimes, our streets. Books are so common, that characterizing the physical object, not just for its content, but for its overall presence seems strange. But, as Amaranth Borsuk deliberates in “The Book”, the distance between us and the physicality of a book was not always the case. Monks in the early middle ages “spent six hours a day hunched before the page in cold scriptorium, incurring back-aches, headaches, eye strain, and cramps, all while wasting away the daylight hours …” (48). Even though this does not seem like the most pleasant experience, these monks had intimate relationships with the book, in ways that we will likely never experience. The creation of these “illuminated manuscripts” employed all the senses.

With the toil of these monks in mind, I decided to analyze my copy of C.D. Wright’s “Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil”.

Image courtesy of Amazon

The book feels smooth, almost plastic like in my hands. The cover is thin but sturdy and the pages are coarser paper but easy to flip through. The book is the light, but feels well-made. The spine is only about a quarter of an inch thick. The book wants to lay shut, but I peer inside. The colors inside are what any reader would expect, off-white pages and black letters. The words are printed in an average serif font. The colors on the cover are neutral – black, white, and gray – with a pop of a deep, blood-like, red highlighting certain details, especially the title and the poets name. The artwork on the cover is stylized, strange, and compelling. It leaves me curious, but also slightly uneasy. The book feels and looks familiar in structure and shape. Holding it in my hands is a recognizable activity. But, the colors and the artwork on the front cover keep me inquisitive and not completely comfortable, which leads me to conclude that the book should be a welcoming object as well as an object that challenges us and dares us to find new meaning.

Wright, C. D. Cooling Time: an American Poetry Vigil. Copper Canyon Press, 2005.

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

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.

Listening to Silence

            Often times, when I am alone in my room, curled under warm blankets, or sprawled out on the floor, I read aloud to myself. Not loudly or elegantly, but softly and carefully, releasing the words into the air and liberating the story from the pages. So, when I read a page of “On the Cult of Books” out loud and then silently it seemed like a familiar enough experience to me, until I realized something about this particular exercise felt different.

            I had never listened to silence.

            In that moment, reading had suddenly become an experience replete with intentionality. The experience of the text absorbed in silence was a completely different experience when I read the words out loud. I had never quite noticed how different the voice in my head is from my actual voice, but suddenly the differences were clear. The vocalization in my head was more fluid, easier to contain yet harder to grasp. As I read, the words slowly seeped into my mind, as if my brain were a sponge. On the contrary, when I read out loud, the vocalization of my voice was less fluid, as easy to grasp as sand. But, I had to work harder to contain the words – a sponge cannot easily hold on to sand.

            My relationship to the text when read silently was far more intimate, the words enshrined in my mind. Whereas my relationship to the text when read out loud, though still meaningful, put a distance between me and the words. I think this intimacy that silent reading brings may be why St. Augustine found St. Ambrose’s habit of reading silently to himself so strange and significant. Augustine recognizes that Ambrose’s habit protects Ambrose from having to debate or discuss ideas with others, but does not mention the idea that Ambrose is in fact discussing the text internally, debating it within himself and silently allowing the words to teach him. Perhaps silent reading is sacred because it is captivating yet confidential. In reading silently, it seems Ambrose did not seek to impress others or boast of his knowledge, but simply enter into a private relationship with the text.

Image result for saint ambrose reading

            Does this mean that reading should always be a private experience? I don’t think so. Although silent reading can be a great way to immerse ourselves into the text, it can also be isolating. Reading out loud may put some distance between the reader and the text, but it forms bonds between the reader and others, or in this case, those listening. This reader/audience relationship creates dialogue and possibly even debates, which in turn, keeps the text alive.

            Although listening to the silence taught me that the quiet sometimes has more to say than we realize, I think that, like all things in life, how we read demands balance and this balance must be discerned. As readers, writers, and listeners we must decide when it is best to keep a sacred silence and when it is best to declare and loudly express.

Work Cited

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