Let’s stop and acknowledge this…

We produced a book in one month. On October 30, we met with Joe O’Connor to discuss his vision for the chapbook Why Poetry? On November 11, we sent the interior to print, and on November 13, we screen printed the covers. On November 20 we sewed about 70 books and various people have been sewing more in spare moments (seemingly pulled from thin air) ever since. Tonight, the work of this whirlwind unit culminated in a poetry reading here at Saint Vincent College, where we presented the community with the finished product, a beautiful, lovingly handmade chapbook of poetry by a man who has written poems his entire life but is only now receiving the recognition his work deserves.

The evening began with a brief introduction by Ms. Gil-Montero of how Why Poetry? came to be. The project grew out of a friendship, an openness that poetry provides. Ms. Gil-Montero met Joe O’Connor because of Eulalia Books, which was only an idea at the time. That the idea came to fruition was in no small part due to support and encouragement from Joe, who is an unwavering champion of the humanities and a stalwart believer in the power of poetry.

Throughout his work and the stories he told in between reading poems, Joe sought to remind us of a simple yet fundamental truth: we are human. Through the humanities, including poetry, we discover what it means to be human living in this world, and we discover who we are as individual human beings. “There are three truths,” Joe writes in the titular poem, “Why Poetry?” “We are lost, we are human, we have everything we need.” It is not enough, according to Joe, to be human alone. We need relationships, we need the “costly exchange” of interacting with others to help us “discover the thrill of being.” And yet relationships are exactly what we have, whether we like it or not. No person is completely self-sufficient; we have everything we need precisely because we must rely on others and allow them to rely on us.

Why poetry? Because poetry allows us to connect with our humanity through the experiences of another. In particulars, poetry reveals universals. In one person, Joe said at the reading, exists a multitude of emotions, memories, skills, failures, and ties to other people. There is more to each one of us than we ever let on. Poetry provides a bridge, a medium to say the unsayable, to reveal our secrets that we ultimately hold in common with every other person on the planet. Joe wants us to be “aware of actual life, to accept living fully, completely and to take action to create a wonderful life.

“And the answer is poetry.”

Why Poetry? is available now from Eulalia Books.

Interior Design

I will admit that I was a little taken aback when I found out that Ms. Gil-Montero assigned me to lead the team for the interior design of Why Poetry? by Joe O’Connor. This was not my first foray into the realm of interior design for books, but my only previous experience was a little chapbook I made out of my own work, which had no consequences for quality or lack thereof.

So I knew about a lot of the details we would need to take into account, including fonts, page numbers, sizing, and spacing. Some things that were new included the copyright page, the table of contents, the acknowledgments, and the author biography—all supplemental material that made the book more “official.” In addition to creating the design for these elements, my team was in charge of writing the copy for most of them.

Luckily for me, I had three awesome team members who were prepared to fearlessly jump into the design process. Clair, Haleigh, and Jake all made essential contributions every step of the way. Before we even opened InDesign, the software we used to design the book, we had to choose fonts, proofread the manuscript, and write the acknowledgements, the copyright page, and the table of contents.

Using the website dafont.com, each of us found five fonts that we thought we could use for either titles or body text. We could not use just any font, though. The fonts we chose needed to be free for commercial use, since we are selling the book, and they needed to be TrueType fonts, meaning that the font files ended in .ttf, so that the text would look the same after we sent it to the printer.

Meanwhile, Haleigh meticulously proofread the manuscript, Clair drafted the acknowledgements, which we later sent to Ms. Gil-Montero and Joe for approval, and I typed up the copyright page, copying most of it from Eulalia’s previous chapbook, Prepoems in PostSpanish by Jorgenrique Adoum.

Finally, we met to start the actual design. Out of all the font options we came up with, we chose one serif font for titles (Angleterre Book) and one sans serif font for the body text (Roboto Light). This arrangement mirrors the cover design by Micaela’s team, which featured a heavier font for the title of the chapbook and a sans serif font for Joe’s name. I also liked the sans serif font for the body because Joe’s poetry is very open and honest, and the unadorned sans serif font reflects that character.

After all this preparation, the actual designing part felt somewhat anticlimactic. We established the guidelines that made boxes for titles and body text; we decided what size to make all the text. The rest was mostly copying and pasting text boxes and the text from the manuscript. (We took turns, so no one got carpal tunnel.) Then the very last step was to make changes after Ms. Gil-Montero proofread the designed copy. And I’m really happy with the way it turned out!

Screen Printing Escapades

The first thing you need to know is that screen printing is really cool. You might know screen printing as “that thing you do when you want to put an image on a t-shirt.” But this past week we again visited Haylee Ebersole at Meshwork Press, this time to screen print the covers for the chapbook we are producing as a class, Why Poetry? by Joe O’Connor. (We’ll cover other parts of this process in the upcoming weeks.)

One of the covers my group printed. Image © Julia Snyder, 2019.

Luckily for us, Haylee had already prepared the screens before we got there, because we had many covers to print and little time to print them. But she still explained the process to us because she knows how curious we are. Using the cover designed by Micaela Kreuzwieser and her team, Haylee imprinted the image onto four screens using a photographic process. She spread a special substance across each screen, and the parts with images and text stayed soft, while the substance that was over the white parts hardened in a dark room (made out of black trash bags). When Haylee washed the soft parts of the substance away, she was left with a screen that would only allow ink through the parts with images and text, which included the cover image (a piece of art by Joe O’Connor’s college roommate, Jim Kozak), the title, the author’s name, the Eulalia Books logo, and the barcode. Haylee also prepared the registration, which is the placement of the paper under the screen, so that the image is on the right place on the cover.

A squeegee for screen printing. Image © Stanley’s Sign and Screen Supply Ltd. and Tim Shady Productions.

Enter our class. Our job was to choose inks, spread them across the screens, and print the covers. The only guidelines were that we had to stay in the blue-green color family. Otherwise we could be as creative as we wanted. Taking a cue from Ms. Gil-Montero, who was inspired by a comment O’Connor made about the poetry collection Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, my group decided to make our cover blue at the top, blending into green for an ombré effect. To achieve this look, we put blue ink on about half of the short edge of the screen, and green ink on the other half. Then we used a squeegee (for screen printing, not for your shower) to spread the ink across the screen, in a process called “flooding the screen.” Finally, we put a paper under the screen and used the squeegee to run the ink across the screen again. This time, the ink went through the appropriate places in the screen, leaving the design on the paper. The result was a beautiful chapbook cover.

The (Daily) Life of a Writer

Last week, poet and editor Garth Graeper visited our class via Skype and graciously answered our many questions. Once of my classmates (Amanda, I think) asked the question that lives in the back of every aspiring writer’s mind: “What advice do you have for writers who want to pursue a career in writing?” Graeper’s response was at once comforting and disappointing. Comforting, because Graeper gave us a straight answer and confirmed what we already knew. Disappointing, because we had wished it wasn’t true. Writers, Graeper said, generally cannot make a living on their writing, especially not right away. (Assume throughout this essay that writing means creative writing.) The path to job security lies in the nine-to-five occupation that pays the bills, while the companion path to a writing career supported by that nine-to-five job lies in confining the day job to those hours and claiming the remainder of the day for writing. Graeper’s response did offer a silver lining, though. Since writers must be able to write and perform their day jobs, writers are necessarily multitalented, a characteristic that will take them far. Therefore, a career in writing requires a special dedication by the very nature of its difficulty to attain. And although we as writers do not appreciate the lack of lucrative opportunities in the field, the financial deprivation of the writing field does force a level of passion into the field that other professional disciplines do not require. Counterintuitively, this pattern is good news for serious writers, as it means that people who do not care about writing will be less likely to be trying to take up space in the writing market. Only those writers who are truly passionate about and dedicated to their writing will have the stamina to establish and maintain a writing career while also working a day job.

In my experience (which is limited, I admit), many writers work in the field of marketing or communications during the day and become poets at night. I believe that this situation is ideal for writers, except for a few caveats. Marketing/communications require a creativity that writers possess in abundance, especially the ability to wordsmith and write compelling copy. But sometimes these jobs require longer hours than the boiler-plate nine-to-five, especially for public relations professionals, event planners, and crisis communicators. In addition, writers must take productivity into account. Thinking in terms of energy, writers might be worn out by the end of the day if they are expected to be creative at their day jobs; this cycle feeds back into the importance of stamina. The bottom line is that writers must be prepared to work hard for long periods of time on a daily basis in order to achieve their goals.

Action Books and Alchemy

For the next few weeks, I am delving into an investigation of the small press Action Books and the work of writer María Negroni. Action Books’ about page contains only staff names and a manifesto, beginning with “Action Books is transnational,” and ending with “Action Books: Art and Other Fluids.” (Go read the whole thing!)

For more mundane information, such as the age of the press and the genre of the work it publishes, we must look to a 2013 article by Blake Butler at Vice Magazine. From Butler’s article I can glean that Action Books is about 15 years old and that it publishes translated avant-garde works. From the inside of Dark Museum by María Negroni (trans. by Michelle Gil-Montero) I can see that Action Books is supported by the University of Notre Dame, and from there it is a quick Google search to find that the editors of Action Books, Joyelle McSweeney and Johannes Göransson teach English at that same university. So much for all that banality. There is a reason those details are missing from the publisher’s website.

The lack of historical information about the press speaks to its mission stated elsewhere in the manifesto: “Action Books is Futurist. Action Books is No Future.” The dichotomy between future and nonfuture illustrates the timelessness of the work of Action Books; publications stand within time, but they are also for all time.

Three of María Negroni’s books, published by Action Books. Photo © Julia Snyder, 2019

María Negroni’s work fits this mission especially well. An Argentinian poet, writer, translator, and essayist, Negroni was born in 1951 and has published twelve books of poetry, two novels, and five collections of essays. Her work is critical of history, but also philosophical and imaginative. According to Lucas De Lima, Negroni presents a “transnational theory of politics and aesthetics” in Dark Museum. Negroni’s work is very much a study in hybridity, as she writes novels in verse, lyrical critical essays, and prose poetry. “In an emergency, break forms,” is Action Books’ tagline, and Negroni does just that in response to the emergencies of our time.

“A body dreams in the miniature of its night,” Negroni writes at the very beginning of Dark Museum (4). Page four, topped by the word “Prologue” followed by a quote from Emily Dickinson, contains the beginning of the text of the book—and text is what it looks like. Upon reading, the text becomes poetry, but until that essential moment, the contents of the book look like prose. In conclusion, I have one word for you, from page four of Dark Museum: “Alchemists.”

Work Cited

Negroni, María. Dark Museum. Translated by Michelle Gil-Montero. Action Books, 2015.

Translation as Structural Violence, Translation as Remedy

On September 20, 2019, Eulalia Books released Jeannine Marie Pitas’ translation of Echo of the Park by Romina Freschi. On September 26, Pitas visited Saint Vincent College for a book launch, reading, and discussion about poetry and translation, facilitated by Eulalia’s editor, Michelle Gil-Montero.

Merriam-Webster defines translation as “an act, process, or instance of translating: such as a rendering from one language into another” or “a change to a different substance, form, or appearance: CONVERSION.” Changing a poetic text into a “different substance” may seem sacrilegious, especially in the context of translation. Pitas and Gil-Montero discussed the idea faithfulness to the original text in translation, with the conclusion that translation is as much about “having faith” that translation is possible as it is about being faithful to the original text. The purpose of translation is to make a text available to readers of a language different from that of the original text. Motives for doing so, especially for English readers, might include the desire to expand readers’ horizons and provide a platform to marginalized voices.

However, proponents of translation into English must be careful to avoid the pitfall of the white savior narrative. As Annie Windholz explains in an article on Medium, “The term ‘white saviorism’ refers to an idea in which a white person, or white culture, rescues people of color from their own situation.” White saviorism perpetuates a cycle of structural violence within marginalized communities, including the non-English poetry community.

According to anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer, anthropologists identify structural violence by studying “the larger social matrix in which [individual experience] is embedded in order to see how various social processes and event come to be translated into personal distress,” i.e., suffering (30). In the context of the poetry community, structural violence encompasses the marginalization of voices that are not part of the mainstream narrative. These voices are unknown, ignored, and denied dignity as a representation of the human experience. And the white savior narrative exacerbates the problem by validating existing power structures instead of questioning them.

Extricating literary translation from the white savior narrative that maintains structural violence involves more than just good intentions. It requires a community-participatory approach that enables marginalized voices to direct the means of their own empowerment. Getting literature into the hands of readers should not come at the cost its creators. Instead, poets should have the power to decide who needs to read their work and how. Only then will literary translation be able to accomplish the work of cultural enrichment.

Work Cited
Farmer, Paul. Pathologies of Power. University of California Press, 2003.


My book object is a bit on the conventional side, but let me justify that from the outset by telling you that I tried to make paper out of leaves. I will back up a bit. After our trip to the zine archive at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland, I was so inspired by all the self-made publications there that I was very excited to create my own. I was particularly interested in one zine that had homemade paper for a cover and a few others that were made out of one sheet of 8-1/2 x 11-inch paper. I brought a template for the printer paper zines back to my dorm, and I was ready to use it. But printer paper is a bit mundane, so I decided to try my hand at the homemade paper. As book artist Ulises Carrión writes in his manifesto “The New Art of Making Books,” “A book of 500 pages, or of 100 pages, or even of 25, wherein all the pages are similar, is a boring book” (Carrión 2). In search of a material that is not boring, and that could conceivably become paper, I landed on leaves. While the final product did not turn out as I had hoped (see the companion post, “How to Make Paper Out of Leaves”), I did stumble upon a deeper understanding of the pseudo-leaf-paper cover of my book.

Photo © Julia Snyder, 2019.

Carrión states: “In the new art every page is different; every page is an individualized element of a structure (the book) wherein it has a particular function to fulfill” (2). Carrión would probably characterize my book as a “bookwork,” which lives in the intersection of materiality and text. Poet Amaranth Borsuk explains, “The bookwork…engages in a critique of the book and an exploration of its affordances” (144-145). While the relationship between the text and the leaf paper might not be obvious to the casual reader, I believe that the leaf paper cover is the key to understanding the text of my bookwork. As Borsuk writes, “It represents a conceptual approach to bookmaking, and one that relies on the viewer’s interaction with the object to make meaning,” (145).

Photo © Julia Snyder, 2019.

The content, or text, of my bookwork is a poem called “Rebellious Nerdz Pool Criminals.” This poem represents the collective consciousness of my friend group in a single voice. However, I think the leaf cover conveys the spirit of the poem better than the text does because it illustrates the themes of brokenness, futility, and ultimately coping that are present in the text of the poem. To truly grasp the text, the reader must literally and figuratively get past the leaf cover.

Photo © Julia Snyder, 2019.

Works Cited

Borsuk, Amaranth. “The Book as Idea.” The Book, The MIT Press, 2018, pp. 111–195.

Carrión, Ulises. “The New Art of Making Books.” Aegean Editions, 2001.

How to Make Paper Out of Leaves

1. Find leaves. I went for a walk in the woods and chose a variety of leaves of all shapes, sizes, and thicknesses from trees and plants that looked healthy.

Photo © Julia Snyder, 2019.

2. Wash leaves. I didn’t want dirt in my paper, so I rinsed the leaves off with warm water.

3. Tear leaves apart, mash up, and mix with water. This was supposed to be the part where the paper base started to come together. Instead, I ended up with a conglomeration of leave bits that did not look like they were going to stick together by themselves.

Photo © Julia Snyder, 2019.

4. Decide to add liquid glue. You know, to hold it all together.

5. Decide to use a paper towel as backing. So that now we have paper towel leaf paper. Can you tell I did not plan this well?

6. Spread into a thin layer and let dry. For several days. You will be able to smell the leaves, but it won’t be unpleasant unless you hate nature. Eventually the smell will go away.

Photo © Julia Snyder, 2019.

7. Use clear packing tape to keep the leaves from falling off the paper towel. Apparently glue was not enough, as I found out when I went to cut the paper to size and glue it to my bookwork.

Photo © Julia Snyder, 2019.

Intellectual Property in Zine-land

Last week we had the amazing privilege to join Rita Johnson, a librarian at the main branch of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, for a tour of the Library and an introduction to the zine archive there. The Library offers so many outstanding resources—from the career center to the reference space to stacks overlooking the natural history museum—but the zine collection was the most interesting, albeit most unassuming.

Shark Attacks in each coast,’ made out of a single sheet of printer paper, in the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh main branch zine archive, photo © Julia Snyder, 2019.

Zines exist on the fringes of the publishing milieu. The ugly step-cousins of magazines, zines are self-produced and self-distributed. Their tradition of undertaking activism without working through a publishing house goes back at least to 1776, when Thomas Paine anonymously published his pamphlet Common Sense. If ever the maxim that big ideas come in small packages applied, it does so with zines.

The polar opposite of a traditionally published book, a zine is not for profit. It is not professionally designed. Anyone can make a zine with a sharpie and printer paper. More than social media, zines provide a concrete way to get a message out. While social media posts enter the public consciousness for a few hours to a few days, as tangible objects, zines are more permanent.

‘Shark Attacks in each coast,’ completely unfolded, photo © Julia Snyder, 2019.

One of most important ways that zines differ from other creative publications is the prioritization of message over author. Most of the zines I looked at did not even list the people who had created them. For example, Deafula no. 4 contains a 39-page rant about employment, unemployment, and disability, which is brutally honest despite (or maybe because of) its lack of attribution.

Another notable absence in most zines is the lack of a copyright page. Rita, the librarian, noted that some people will put a creative commons license on their work, which is much more in the spirit of the zine community. Again, this decision illustrates that zines and their creators are much more concerned with sharing ideas than with owning them.

‘Deafula’ no. 4, in the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh main branch zine archive, photo © Julia Snyder, 2019.

With the freedom from pecuniary concerns comes a freedom from creative restraints. Zine creators have no editors telling them what they can and can’t do, no “market forces” making a project cost prohibitive. One of the glossier zines I looked at was the Bike PGH! Biking 101 Guide, which looked like a graphic novel on the inside. Another zine was like a huge scrapbook, covered in camouflage fabric on the outside and filled with glitter on the inside.

More than other publications, zines are community oriented. They deal with the immediate concerns of the people who make them. And they address and respond to the most important issues in our lives. Zines are for people, not for profit.

Letterpress as Ritual

On one of the hottest days of summer we piled into a minivan and drove into the heart of the Pittsburgh area to visit Meshwork Press, a print shop in Wilkinsburg. Our pilgrimage was not without its spiritual preparation; the previous week we viewed a documentary about letterpress printing called Pressing On: The Letterpress Film. And guiding us through our letterpress printing experience was Haylee Ebersole, an artist-turned-printer with a passion for teaching and an endless supply of patience. After showing us her tools and how they work, Haylee turned us loose in her studio, allowing us to participate in the ritual that is letterpress printing.

Rituals deal in particulars, and letterpress printing is no different. The first tool we learned about was the chase. The chase is a cast iron rectangular frame that holds the type. In a platen press, which is the kind of press we used, one platen stands upright and holds the chase while another platen holds the paper and swivels up and down, pressing the paper against the type after a roller has coated the type with rubbery ink.

Using the platen press. © 2019, Michelle Gil-Montero.

One of the hardest parts of letterpress printing is filling up the chase. First, I chose my type, the letters v-i-v-i to spell my sister’s nickname. I opened tiny drawers that held tinier type, picking up and setting down letter after letter—v’s are not easy to come by. Searching through all the pieces of type claimed my entire attention as I focused on letters, not words. Next, I needed to arrange not only the type, but also the wooden blocks, called pieces of furniture, that space out and fix the type within the chase. I walked across the room a dozen times or more, looking for a piece of furniture the right size, trying first one and then another until all the pieces fit like a puzzle. Once the chase was full, an expanding metal wedge called a quoin locked all the pieces into place, after which I had to test the chase to make sure the pieces were securely fastened and would not fall out in the press. Pushing and pulling, bumping and shaking accomplished the test, and then it was time to print.

The final product. © 2019, Michelle Gil-Montero.

A ritual is a physical action that manifests an inward belief. Does a writer write something that he or she does not believe? Letterpress is a physical action that produces a material object manifesting ideas. In this way, letterpress printing is a ritual, and as such approaches a religious experience. The letterpress printer interacts with the text in a tangible way, handling every letter of every word and guiding the work into material existence. This was my experience at Meshwork Press: a level of engagement with text that went beyond the text and into the realm of the metaphysical.