To Cover A Chapbook: The Debut of Why Poetry?

The completed base design for the cover before the final color scheme was added ©Micaela Kreuzwieser

It was an exhilarating experience to design the cover for Joe O’Connor’s Why Poetry? I was the team leader for the cover and was joined in my efforts by John Rogan and Amanda Moyher. It was peppered with some trouble in the very beginning due to a lack of familiarity with Illustrator. However, after fumbling our way into some understanding, we chose the design option with the tree centered in the middle of the front page.  We sent five samples with five different fonts to Michelle Gil-Montero for approval; she chose #5, a thick and blocky print with a neat letterpress aesthetic that would make the tree graphic, originally done by Jim Kozak, look whimsical. We were painstaking in our efforts, wanting the results of our work to be as visually pleasing as possible. My team then put the ISBN bar code and Eulalia logo onto the back page of the cover in Illustrator and sent it on through to its next stage of development: the silk screening in Wilkinsburg with Haylee Ebersole.

The final chapbook-ready covers, screen printed with the aid of Haylee Ebersole ©Micaela Kreuzwieser

At Meshworks in Wilkinsburg, I was part of a team with Daniel Whirlow and Elspeth Mizner: Danny worked the squeegee to create the beautiful covers in shades of green and blue (colors chosen specifically to evoke Walk Whitman’s Leaves of Grass), Elspeth was “clean hands” and grabbed each piece as it emerged fresh and pristine from the silk screen, and I was the runner, responsible for taking what Elspeth handed me and placing it somewhere safe to dry. By placing the paint in strategic locations, Danny was able to create a lovely gradient for the cover image. With the colors blending together over time and our needing to refill the paint every now and again, each version of the cover came out differently, with some boasting a pronounced gradient while others had a more consistent coloration, a shade of turquoise that was just as gorgeous. Joe O’Connor himself also had a hand in some experimentation; by dabbing a spot of paint onto the part of the screen where the moon would fall, he was able to create covers with a yellow moon peeking from behind the green/blue/turquoise branches.

Being present at Joe O’Connor’s reading on Wednesday, December 4 was the culmination of our Small Press Publishing course. After an introduction by Michelle Gil-Montero and Daniel Whirlow, Joe O’Connor himself took the stage. He gave background and supplementary information on the writing process and inspiration for each poem he read, leaving untouched no detail that went into making Why Poetry? a reality. Joe touched on his own lessons from its creation, a main one being how poetry does not have to be grand or large in scale; what matters is the telling and how it is conveyed. It was immensely satisfying being in that room in the Fred Rogers Center listening to Joe O’Connor read his work and knowing that we had come to the end of the Why Poetry?’s production process, if a little sad. We all learned so much from getting a close-up and hands-on experience with the publishing process, from working with the initial manuscript to designing the cover, planning out the interior pages and table of contents, formulating PR announcements, and scheduling the launch event, in addition to gaining experience with silk screening the final covers. A final thank-you to Michelle Gil-Montero for running this course, to my fellow students for joining me in this journey, to Haylee Ebersole for letting us all silkscreen at Meshworks with her, and to Joe O’Connor himself for giving us the privilege of working on Why Poetry?

The Publication Profession

On Wednesday, October 16, my Small Press Publishing class had the honor of poet and editor Garth Graeper speaking to us and answering questions about the publication field through Skype. In addition to Ugly Duckling Presse, Graeper also worked with the Big Six publishers Penguin Random House and Knopf, and was willing to give insight into the differences between the inner workings of smaller press and the bigger corporation publications. My chosen question concerned the differences between the publication selection processes of the two groups. One of the biggest differences is that the larger corporations require writers to have an agent first, often as confirmation that the person in question is someone of note for marketing purposes and that the manuscript is already high quality. Without one, writers are unlikely to be seriously considered for publication at the bigger publishing houses which also are not as open to unsolicited submissions. This is strongly contrasted with smaller presses which widely encourage first-time publications and do not strongly enforce the need for a literary agent as assurance, even working closely with the writers themselves for editing. The lack of a dominant monetary incentive overall is especially evident with the smaller presses, many of which, like Ugly Duckling, are often nonprofit with a small staff. Once again, compare this with the larger publishing houses which all too often “define success according to profit margins” (Entropy). Another difference between the two is the amount of detail that goes into the smaller press publications. I was particularly impressed with Graeper’s behind the scenes look on Kickstarter at the letterpress printing process for History of Violets, written by Marosa di Giorgio and translated by Jeanine Pitas. The cover graphics are absolutely gorgeous and demonstrate the tremendous care and thought that are painstakingly put into the publication process by the smaller presses. Contrast with the larger publications which are more likely to accept manuscripts that are already polished and edited and tend to boast covers with printed stock photos.

Park Book, installations 1 & 4 by poet and editor Garth Graeper ©Micaela Kreuzwieser

Another interesting point that Graeper discussed was the act of balancing familial obligations with the demands of working in the publication world. While it can be tricky maintaining such hefty responsibilities, everyone evidently handles it separately and chooses to go about it in separate ways. Personally, I think it is admirable when someone is able to give equal amounts of time to family matters and a career, especially considering how hands-on and intricate either responsibility alone can be. For example, a crisis could be going on with the printing process that needs sorted out immediately, but tackling it is complicated if there is a sick child at home or a prior scheduled school meeting with teachers. Handling such scenarios requires much patience and forbearance from the person confronted with them due to the emotional and physical stress they can cause.

Entropy. “Ugly Duckling Presse.” Entropy Magazine, The Accomplices LLC, 24 March 2015, https://entropymag.org/ugly-duckling-presse/

Rose Metal Press

Publisher of hybrid genres, Rose Metal Press is my choice of small press for my term paper. According to the “Who We Are” page on their official site, they seek to publish “literary works that move beyond the traditional categories of poetry, fiction, and essay to find new forms of expression,” such as flash fiction, prose poetry, text and fiction works, and other styles that combine more than one format and mode. Rose Metal Press acknowledges there are creative writing niches that are not always given accommodation or focus. As a result, they seek to provide a publishing vehicle for those that are often overlooked. The Massachusetts press began in January 2006 and has since dedicated itself to publishing literature that is not easily categorized as a way of expanding opportunities for such writers and to further widen the world of publishing. I believe this to be quite an admirable goal; writing is flexible with new territory being explored and original creations popping up all the time. While attempts are made to give the spotlight to unconventional forms, they are still ignored or passed over much too often, due to issues involving classification that might in turn influence the marketability of such pieces. The unique focus for Rose Metal Press is that, while other presses and journals look for a certain kind of content theme, RMP concentrates more on diversity of format, not that they themselves do not also look for unconventional angles within the writing itself.

The cover of Jennifer Tseng’s chapbook The Passion of Woo & Isolde,
published in 2017 by Rose Metal Press ©Rose Metal Press
A page from Tseng’s chapbook The Passion of Woo & Isolde
© Rose Metal Press

Without a doubt, the people of Rose Metal Press are attempting to promote modern niches and styles that are not paid as much attention as broader categories. Their aesthetic, judging from the artwork, is beautifully freewheeling, colorful, whimsical, and, in many cases, fantastical or hinting at such territory with intricate symbolism and abstract artwork. This angle seems to posit the message that “these ideas and concepts are just as lovely, magical, and worth exploring as more mainstream forms! So, don’t be afraid to have a look inside!” From watercolor birds to chess pieces to shaded monster sketches to golden scissors, rich detail and whimsy are frequent adornments of their covers. Interestingly enough, when the book is open, we see that the layout of the interior pages is relatively simple. In contrast with the gorgeously extravagant covers, there are no decorations or borders surrounding the works or titles on the pages themselves. The title is stylized yet clear and easily readable with plenty of space. Part of the first line of the piece below is in all capital letters to grab the reader’s attention before transitioning back into a regular style. There is plenty of white space that allows the piece to stand out that much more; nothing is distracting or pulls your attention away from the piece. The content similarly balanced. It is a short story piece named “Woo,” written with just enough detail to flesh out the events without being detracting or making it feel overloaded. The page’s layout thus fulfills two purposes. It reflects the poem’s own style of balancing character with clarity, and it also provides a foil to the exterior cover’s beautiful imagery: the outside has effectively pulled the reader in, now the work itself will hold the reader there. It needs no further help or trinkets to capture attention; the content itself is enough. This message only drives home further the hopes and goals of Rose Metal Press: mixed, transitional, and newer categories of writing are worth attention if only readers will give them a chance.

The Jewel of Perpetual Time

For my book object, I drew from scroll and pamphlet inspirations to make a hybrid product that is influenced by both concepts. For my book object, I drew from scroll and pamphlet inspirations to make a hybrid product that is influenced by both concepts. Unlike traditional scrolls, however, my final product is a continuous loop with no end. It is designed to be perpetually threaded through the top and bottom at the reader’s will for the purpose of viewing the contents. The inner “pages” are designed to be folded and unfolded rather than rolled up. The poem I chose to furnish the inside is Richard Le Galliene’s “Buried Treasure,” a choice that touches upon the themes also present in the materials comprising my object’s physical structure. My book object is made from scrap materials I had no use for and would have thrown away. These materials include an old handmade copy of my class schedule, an empty mooncake wrapper, scribbled-on Post-it notes, expired club fundraiser ads, the cardboard ring from a coffee cup, and the bubble wrap-sided lining from an abandoned Amazon package.For my book object, I drew from scroll and pamphlet inspirations to make a hybrid product that is influenced by both concepts.

A view of my book object’s cover ©Micaela Kreuzwieser
A view of my book object unraveled in scroll form ©Micaela Kreuzwieser
View from an upper angle of my open book object ©Micaela Kreuzwieser

How is my object a “book”? In The Book, Borsuk mentions the Torah scroll’s specific ceremonial purpose on the Jewish holiday Simchat Torah, or “rejoicing of the Torah” where the Torah is processed around after the final reading before resuming its position so that its beginning can be read too, “symbolizing the cyclical nature of both the year and the text” (Borsuk 20).  A book is “also a sequence of moments,” says Ulises Carrión in The New Art of Making Books; what better way to convey this idea than a scroll that comes in boxes, that never needs to be rewound at one end? Furthermore, according to Borsuk, artists’ books “offer a greater variety of formats that can carry the name ‘book,’ […] reminding us of the deep history of formal experimentation with the material text” (Borsuk 146). In incorporating influences of a scroll design yet experimenting with more than one simultaneously, my book object attempts to pay homage to history. However, the hybridity also helps to “link [my object] to digitally mediated books” through its exploration of traits shared by other books (Borsuk 146). My chosen scrap materials reflect how anything, including things destined for trash, can be reused and made useful and beautiful. Even things thought to be obsolete can have an important purpose as shown by the strategically placed snack wrapper, for example. As a student, my daily circumstances were an excellent way to drive the point home how old drafts and supplies in everyday life can be reincorporated, as reflected in the ingredients comprising my book object. My desired reader is one who wishes to revisit the past and be confronted with the repetitions of time which my book object rises to confront with its properties: a design that is a metaphor for beauty being found in anything, a material makeup that addresses the reusage of objects thought to be useless and only fit to be abandoned, pages whose cyclical system mimics that of humanity’s practices over time being recycled just like the materials that make it, and even the poem inside which addresses the mourning of lost beauty and the questioning of to where it has disappeared.

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

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

The Zany Zine

What a fascinating discovery! Zines have been around since the 1930s, but I only encountered them for the first time during our excursion. The zines we explored at Carnegie Library were such wonderful examples of creative literary material released outside the publishing mainstream. They embodied the resident freedom that accompanies the lack of a need to meet a certain standard or to be “polished” before perusal. Overall, they were generally rougher, smaller in some cases, and less refined. One zine concerning the importance of recycling even resembled a pamphlet more than a magazine and had a slipcover comprised entirely of soft reused paper! The contents of the zines themselves were also, refreshingly, the opposite of sleek. They were honest and completely forthright in either voicing opinions that did not match convention or containing themes that are not often the core of more typical magazines, whether it concerned organic farming, knitting, or even stories of library etiquette/experience. The dry humor of a zine called Transom: The Library Issue, which included the aforementioned library stories, was particularly entertaining to me. Generally, the zines strove to take both creative and content-related risks, even if the implied work would have taken much effort, such as the ink design on the cover of Ideas in Pictures #5 representing repeated letterpress processes.

A zine with a recycled cover boasting a piece of onionskin in the center
©Photo by Micaela Kreuzwieser

While showcasing certain perks that come with being in a niche, there were also some evident drawbacks to the zines’ presentation. The sizes of some of the zines as well as the large amount of print on each page at times led me to draw the conclusion that the layout and resources can be limited for zines. As a result, multiple opinions addressing different topics were often compressed onto the same page with little space in between entries. The effect of a few zines’ layouts was one of sardines in a can or like being confronted with a wall of words, an unfortunate setup which can overwhelm the senses rather than draw the reader’s eyes as a more individual presentation could accomplish. However, since resources are not as boundless with zines and since a main point in zines’ favor is that content will not be sacrificed for the sake of aesthetics, the only course of action is to make do with what is available. Another downside was a lack of long-term durability. Some of the zines, due to their resemblance to pamphlets, seem like they would need to be handled more carefully than conventional magazines which, as standardized as they are, often come sleekly polished and equipped with thicker spines.

A zine with a beautiful cover design
©Photo by Micaela Kreuzwieser

After this excursion, the definition of publication in zine-land seems exceedingly flexible. A writer does not need a name in the publishing industry to be able to have something in print. A zine is open to all who want their opinions, views, and pieces published. Furthermore, a publication in zine-land does not need to look aesthetically smooth or meet conventional standards to be deemed respectable or worthy of circulation. In the commercial publication realm, there is a repeated and reused format. A reader can open one magazine and have a general idea of what will be on the next page, from glossy pictures to ads to a column or essay. A zine is much less predictable; every turn of a page opens a new surprise and the omission of excessive “gloss” allows the reader to judge the content for themselves without having to fend off fluffy attempts at distraction. In the end, while the domain of zine publication is more expansive and the world of indie poetry more focused in its genre, they both share a raw style; they do things their own way and seek out unusual pieces to present and publish. They both inhabit a valuable niche that presents something new and different, adding more figurative and literal color to a world of words and designs.

Meshworks: The Art of Trial and Error

“Typesetting is like film cutting.”

This quote from the diary of Anias Nin struck a chord with me. I could immediately see the similarities between the two processes of film editing and typesetting. Both are incredibly painstaking with much intricate and patient work involved to ensure a beautiful, cohesive product where everything has its place for a particular reason. Both film editing and typesetting also go through copious amounts of trial and error in order to see what works and what needs to be fixed. But this repetition is necessary and justified in the end. Indeed, this comparison is made even clearer to me after the experience at Meshworks Press.

My group’s work of art, courtesy of Meshworks Press © Micaela Kreuzwieser

The main thing I noticed in my first experience with typesetting was how much rearranging is involved, not only to adjust spacing and see what designs work the best, but also to ensure maximum security so that the pieces stay tightly in the frame and do not fall into the press. My group must have adjusted the pieces dozens of times, with much appreciated aid from the wonderful expert Miss Haylee Ebersole, selecting similarly-sized pieces when we couldn’t make the original choices work, tucking rolled pieces of paper into the cracks to take up extra space, and tightening and loosening the frame to check the compactness of the chosen type. This long process of trial and error drove home to me how much patience and stubborn focus is required to work with letterpress and create the beautiful pieces shown. I was reminded of a clip from the film Pressing On which compared the constant adjustments at the letterpress to the computer editing taking place on Word, only the latter can occur at the touch of a few buttons. The hands-on nature of even the smallest changes in letterpress made me feel more connected to our finished design’s production and thus, even more satisfied when it was finally concluded.

This long procedure, I believe, is the essence of the letterpress and the core of its poetics. There is an uncertainty present in it, an unknowing of how exactly it will turn out or how long it will take. Letters may need to be swapped out, different blocks require testing in spaces of various sizes, and there is always a chance of that one crevice where nothing will fit except a rolled-up piece of paper. In this fashion, the art of letterpress could be said to compose itself because if something won’t work physically no matter how many attempts are made, the only option is to go back to the drawing board on that idea. Once again, compare this to a computer where it takes little effort to adjust letters to be of the same size or to center a certain design that could take minutes of tampering and jamming in letterpress format just to see if it will sit properly. Interestingly, while it too is modern technology, the film cutting mentioned in the top quote takes the same effort of attempting multiple tries. And truly, it may be pursued and studied profusely just as letterpress printing is for the same reasons : the magic involved, both throughout the complex creative process and in the final piece.

Red as Its Name

© photo from Amazon.com
A look at the front cover of Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red
© photo from blckdgrd.com
A glimpse inside Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red

There is something truly fascinating, magical, intriguing, and certainly ingenious about Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red. This book was required for my Poetry Workshop curriculum last year and it was, by far, my favorite and the most memorable to me, due to the number of components it mixed and carried so well. Where to begin with Red? First, we can start with the color. One might think that a poetry book with Red in the title daring to be tinted red is risking accusations of being too on the nose. But the shade is just dark enough that the image of the volcano on the cover can be seen as a brown sketch or engraving, a nod to the ancient roots from which the story’s inspiration hails where it flourished in Ancient Greek mythology alongside tales of the gods and magical, fantastical beings. This is a prime example of Red mixing ingredients successfully in its physical makeup, in addition to its contents.

The touch of Red’s pages evokes age. The texture is thin like onionskin and almost malleable, as if channeling the feel of an old volume, one passed down through the ages to each successive generation, bearing records of long-ago events, and sitting well-preserved on a podium for all to see. Even the codex seems old in the way it wishes to lay open as if to display its inner offering for all to see, like a history book or encyclopedia enticing someone to pore over its pages, but with the promise of narrative to tie the pieces together. In this way, once again, Red pays homage to its origins while balancing out this hat tip to the past with its more contemporary interpretation written inside. Interestingly, the inside is inverted when compared to the outside. Whereas the inside feels old in opposition to the more modern interpretation, the cover appears old but feels smooth. Appearances can be deceiving, the cover says. Who says that one cannot combine both? The font style and size similarly read like something old, distinguished, having survived a long time to bear its messages to the reader. The chapter numbers are written in Roman numerals, like the headings of scrolls or the face of a preserved grandfather clock. Using an archaic way of expressing numbers in such a mythology-contemporary hybrid work points to the flexibility of time in Geryon’s life story in Autobiography of Red: if he can come from such a far-off moment in mythological history and nestle so comfortably in a contemporary period, a perfect amalgamation of both, why shouldn’t the book in its physical aspect do the same? Just like the story itself, the book perfectly embodies a hybrid creation. Because of this, I can only approach the book as both a kind of history and a narrative folded into one unique creation.

Looking at Autobiography of Red with a fresh perspective, I was struck by how suited the book seemed for the older practice of reading aloud. Even if it was “a practice fundamentally different from the kind of private, meditative engagement we now experience,” Red’s hybrid nature in weaving poetical prose with a narrative makes it ideal for such an endeavor (Borsuk 53). Poetry is still read aloud today. However, longer narratives are not performed in the same way as often. With Red’s marriage of the two forms, it has made a longer narrative more suited for a performance aspect. I find it ironic and somehow fitting that in furthering technological development and literary experimentation, we somehow have found a way to come full circle. Considering Red’s identity as a mixture of concepts, it is the perfect vehicle to undertake this path.

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

Legacy’s Complexity

Legacy. This word embodies how the featured video Pressing On: The Letterpress Film (2017) portrays the art of letterpress printing. Firstly, a generational lineage was emphasized as shown by the community members hoping to pass their knowledge of the press down to younger people. Second, it also points to a historical legacy that is woven throughout the past, from Johannes Gutenberg and his invention to ad notices in the South to printing in the 20th century. Even now when mass printing is completed through other means, letterpress workers still fight to ensure that such a craft is preserved and utilized. Finally, legacy is also present in how designers are permitted through letterpress application to gain a new appreciation for the entire printing process and a fuller sense of what is involved. Legacy is the thread that holds it all together, but unfortunately, due to developing technology, this connection is threatened with being severed.

Members of the letterpress printing community work hard at their craft, both to ensure quality and to keep the craft alive.
Photo taken from copper.org, captured by Somersault Letterpress

The worksheet question concerning whether to use something that holds a significant amount of history is a poignant dilemma. On the one hand, using old presses allows a firmer grasp on the past and the ability to delve into a beautiful and unique craft. However, this opportunity would contribute to such relics wearing out faster and ultimately being lost to time. I can only conclude that the metals comprising an old letterpress would possibly hold out longer against frequent usage. Compare this to a preserved quilt whose softer material would cause it to decay more quickly if exposed to the outside world. On the whole, it is an odd thing to be faced with such a sadistic choice: hide away the machines in museums to save their physicality but lose the technique? Or utilize them to keep the art alive but hasten their deterioration in the process? I was touched by the film interviewees’ firm beliefs that they should be used; despite the possibility of their being worn down, the history embodied by the presses is evidently too vital to understanding the printing process to let them go untouched.

Ultimately, it is ironic that legacy itself is the reason for the press’s situation. The invention of the printing press led to the mass creation and distribution of books, flowing into the Renaissance and its own influence. And as developers have continually striven for efficiency and new discoveries, the fashion has barreled right past the printing press to more modern and quicker means in order to allow for mass printing and distribution. But, while the efforts to advance technology are commendable, there is now something missing from the printing process. As poet Katherine Case’s quote states, “there is no better way to get to know another person’s poem than to set it in type and print it by hand.” Additional connections are present through the incorporation of the press: the more tactile relationship between the poet and the reader, and a firm link between the writer’s mind and body to anchor them to the present. Can we let such bonds be lost for the sake of efficiency? The letterpress community is ensuring that we do not let it be so.

The Importance of Inner Life

What is the main difference between interior experience of a text and a more external reading? Why, the possibility of inviting others to listen in and to share their own viewpoints on the subject matter, of course. Upon silently reading Jorge Luis Borges’ 1951 essay “On the Cult of Books” and then comparing it to a verbally spoken version afterward, I immediately noticed how it seemed less like a private rumination of different interpretations of the concept of the book and more of an allure to express and formulate opinion. In the former reading, the text seemed like water with the different interpretations chasing each other one after the other across the page, much like my own thoughts at being confronted with them. In the latter reading, the words felt like they were set in stone: immovable, concrete, a prompt to set off discussion that was much more reminiscent of a public stage. In one scenario, I am a private participant; in the other, I am provided with a challenge to share my view. Both serve an essential purpose, one to help establish what I believe, the other to help me share it.

Sophocles’ words of caution; photo taken from quotetab.com

According to Borges, Saint Augustine hypothesized in Book VI of Confessions that Ambrose read silently “‘perhaps to protect himself in case he had a hearer interested and intent on the matter, to whom he might have to expound the text being read if it contained difficulties, or who might wish to debate some difficult questions.'” (Borges). Traditionally, reading was a social event, a way to gather everyone together to share opinions and to debate. The idea of keeping thoughts to oneself to broaden one’s interior life rather than including everyone in it was not as common. With this idea in mind, it becomes easier to understand why Augustine found this event significant enough to mention. The act of reading was thought to be a public occurrence. Keeping it strictly one-on-one to aid in discernment and individuality had yet to enter public consciousness on a wider scale.

Silent and vocalized reading each have their uses. To ascertain one’s views, there needs to be a certain space and privacy allotted to let the reader absorb the text in its entirety and analyze how they personally retain and embody it. On the other hand, an opinion exists to be shared and inviting other people to do the same is vital. There is an interrelationship between the two that cannot be brushed aside. Not sharing a reading all the time, I think, contributes to that much stronger of a vocalized opinion when a reading is designed as an invitation. Having no room or “brain space” to formulate an individual opinion can make it hard to have any at all. Thus, is it not more ideal to allow for private reading experiences that promote a stronger, individual opinion in a public forum?

Works cited:

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