Monthly Archives: April 2012

I’m a community artist! Are you?

When people ask me what it means to be a southern writer, I immediately reach for words like people, space, relationships, connections. I think less about traditionally southern tropes and more about the network of people that forms the community I know and love. This gives me the distinct feeling of being a community-oriented artist.

The relationship between an artist and a community is a symbiotic and mutually beneficial exploration into the relationships between culture and place. The community artist sees other members of the community as characters (living, breathing inspiration), but also sees the community itself—the place, the trees and cracked sidewalks and odd weather patterns—as its own character. As a writer, I am sharply attuned to the movement and characteristics of the people around me, but also to the vivid life of the town and its physical components: the looseness of its soil, its rocky outcroppings and riverbeds.

One of the most valuable things about being a part of a community is the commonality of the interpersonal relationships—everyone feels a certain degree of kinship simply because they all fundamentally identify with the same place and the same experiences. My hope is that my writing will bring people together in conversation about the places, people, and quirky unique surprises that they know and love—or, if my readership extends to people outside the community, that they, too, will begin to feel as though they are a part of our community as well.

-Alexandra Franklin

Close Quarters by Amy Monticello

Initially, I picked up Amy Monticello’s “Close Quarters” because of its binding. It’s a slim volume, perfect-bound, with a crossed-stitch binding that suggests a corset laced up at the spine. The corset stitch is elegant and unusual—a thick cord twisted and knotted into a series of X shapes the length of the book. “Can we do this?” I and the other interns asked. We knew immediately that we wanted some compelling detail for our next chapbook design, and that this eye-catching stitch could be that detail. We emailed the book’s press, Sweet Publications, for guidance.

“It’s actually funny that you ask,” the reply read, “since the binding that we came up with was a bit of a quick fix. Our original intent was to do a perfect binding, but we quickly discovered…as soon as a reader opened the book, they would see straight to our black and very obvious book tape. This was not aesthetically pleasing…so the cross-stitch was an attempt to cover our mistake.”

Interesting, then, that Monticello’s essays in “Close Quarters” are all about binding, even when the ties that bind are attempts to repair mistakes. In the titular essay, Monticello writes, “All they do is laugh, and the way they laugh might make you think they’re old lovers or on a second marriage…They spent the last of their youth in this town, in love and out late. They got married, had me, legally separated for five years, and eventually divorced when I was seven. But from that divorce twenty-three years ago came a new commitment to one another, a friendship as strong and soft as worn leather, like a marriage in middle age.”

Through sense-heavy memories of her childhood, she delicately outlines the divergences and reunions of her family, and the family tree emerges effortlessly from her prose. She avoids excessive exposition, an understandably common stumbling block among memoirists, in favor of raw experience. At the closing of the essay “Christmas 1984”, Monticello writes, “This is the family I will wish I had because I won’t remember when I had it so briefly. This is all of us together with enough—enough presents, enough peas, enough hope that people can change and put things back together. I eat my second piece of cake, chocolate ice cream dripping down my chin and into the neck of my pink sweater. I grip my spoon in my fist and eat. It’s like the cake won’t be there if I look away for even a second.” Her characters—members of her family—are compelling and fully human, but it is her poetic and image-saturated prose that followed me for days after I had finished the book.

The essays in “Close Quarters” are less essays than extended prose poems—the rhythms clear and smooth, the narratives taking a backseat to the lyrical rollicking of the prose. Monticello takes a contemplative step back and shows us her family as they might be seen through the knotted stitching that holds them together: imperfect, incomplete, in the shadow of dark lines. But they are beautiful, and they catch the eye.

-Alexandra Franklin

The Grave on the Wall by Brandon Shimoda

Double Cross Press, a small press located in Minneapolis, recently released the fifth chapbook in their “Single Sheet Series”. The Grave on the Wall, by Brandon Shimoda, is a delicate chapbook roughly one-fourth the size of a piece of notebook paper. Or the size of my small to medium hand, if my hand were perfectly rectangular in shape. Only twelve pages long, it is slender in shape but plump in impact.

The chapbook is encased in a soft paper the color of a deep periwinkle. It appears handmade and has thin, raised veins that run up, down, and across the page. Like the fine lines etched into the palm of a hand or a frozen pond fighting against the ever expanding cracks of its surface. In the bottom right corner of the cover, a small image sits unobtrusively in black and white against the periwinkle. This image, somewhat indescribable, is repeatedly used inside of the chapbook as well. It appears to be a melding of stretched out circles formed into the shape of an upside down heart. I was immediately reminded of a bundle of rubber bands or a gathering of smooth ribbons.

Upon opening the book, I was delighted to find a soft, white paper that the publishers say was taken from a “sumi-e sketch pad”. As I slid my fingers across the white page, I felt a deep urge to wash my hands so that I would not ruin the delicate perfectness of it all. The paper is so thin and transparent that you can see the innards of the following page, and so on.

The image that is on the cover also works as a precursor to the poetry; it is allowed its own space on a single page before each page of poetry. The transparency of the paper also works double-time as you flip each page upwards. This permits the image to mirror what you have previously seen, providing a reversed image and driving home the picture of a heart. As you progress through the poetry, the image becomes larger and larger on each page and has slight differences in shape.

As I was reading Shimoda’s poetry, I was overcome with his pairing of words such as: “pours emerald mucilage” and “exhales/ wind brains” and “a lot/ of handsome people/ recline on the rocks, playing faucet to the sun” and “persimmon bombs”. The darkness in the poetry is tangible and as you read, the repeated drawing that slides between the poetry begins to change shape. With each turn of the page, I pictured different organs: a heart, a lung, a brain. It is constantly molding, taking a different form of its previous self. Likewise, Shimoda’s poetry felt like different incarnations, each gaining something new, distinct, and profound with each life.

Both the poetry and the design of the chapbook are lovely gifts given to the reader. It is plain to see that a substantial amount of time, energy, and care where poured into this lovely, mesmerizing piece of art.

 

—by Sarah Jennings

I Live Here Now by Jackie Clark

This chapbook features an image of an abandoned, grungy room on both the front and back covers. The title and the author’s name are written on a wall slanting away from the viewer’s eyes, roughly set off from the wall by a stroke of what appears to be spray paint white. Though the information is written in sloppy black print, it does not come across as lackluster; perhaps this is because of the context in which the words are placed. The publishers at Lame House obviously prized the overall coherency of the image above any prescribed notions of elegance. The title, which bluntly and humorously states that this grimy space is now inhabited by the poet, coupled with the image sets the tone for the remainder of the book as raw and unadorned. Inside the book, the first page is a solid, calm blue that matches the color of the stitching, which again contributes to the bareness of the book in that it introduces no new elements but instead repeats a previous one in a bolder fashion.

The three-holed stitch is placed in the center of the spine and leaves an inch and a half of unstitched binding both above and below, a fact that underscores the simplicity of the book. Each hole through with the string was stitched looks more like a stab wound than a hole for string. Also, the spine and corners of the cover appear to have been deliberately tattered. As I see it, this choice breaks a kind of fourth wall that exists between the reader and the poet/publisher. I expect certain artistic choices on the part of the publisher that more often than not betray no evidence of previous personal interaction with the book, so when I first saw the book with its spine beaten and its corners delicately bent, I was surprised and felt as though the book had to battle its way into my hands rather than simply hitch a ride on a mail truck.

Each page of poetry begins not with a title but with a pair of parentheses enclosing nothing but a sliver of empty space. I can’t help but notice this parenthetical vacuum before reading the poems, which casts a strange feeling of lack that many of the poems tend to address. In just about every way, the layout and presentation of the book mirror this theme that dominates many of the pieces, which gives the book and the poetry a synchronized pulse and allows them to exist in symbiosis rather than as separate beasts.

 

Will Gillette

community arts, yo

What does community art mean? Such a broad and expansive topic, and so hard to nail down in just a paragraph! Let me begin by mentioning that I feel an artist in a community means utilizing some form of creative outlet that is expanded beyond your personal sphere of influence. To be a part of a community, your expression must reach other members of that community, whether through the art itself, or through your social interaction with those around you. Creating something amazing is meaningless to everyone who doesn’t see it, so that awesome painting in your basement is moot…but put it where someone can see it and BAM! Community art! To be a community artist, you are integral within an undefined organization of those who strive to bring their point of view to other people, and who allow the point of view of others to reach them in turn. Artists are not necessarily trying to consciously reveal their art to the world, but as a byproduct of their expression, they influence others around them.

Katerina Puzinauskas is a junior pursuing a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English in conjunction with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. She is unpublished and unintimidated by her unprinted state. In her spare time she enjoys Hugo, Dostoevsky, and Frost.

MORE FRISK THAN RISK- Katerina Puzinauskas

MORE FRISK THAN RISK

by Mark Horosky

Flying Guillotine Press, 2010

Reviewed by Katerina Puzinauskas

At first glance, MORE FRISK THAN RISK is unassuming. No frills, no pomp- it reads minimal, and its simplicity lends a sophistication I find to be rare among chapbooks. The cover is constructed with plain black paper and the central graphic is a cream square crossed with wavy ink lines, also black. There is no title on the exterior. The stitching is simple and neat and fades inconspicuously into the spine. When I first received my copy in the mail I didn’t want to touch it, for fear that I might smudge the white vellum or muss the mitered corners. However, this illusion of timidity is shattered upon opening the chapbook. The first page has no words, but it is colored a shocking lemon yellow, and it pulses with raw energy, an unrestrained chaos which I found intriguing. The juxtaposition between the cover and the inset presents a clear division of flavors, and this discord had me eagerly flicking through the work.

MORE FRISK THAN RISK is divided into two sections, THE BOOK OF FRISK and THE BOOK OF RISK. Prior to reading, I had a few reservations about the dissonance between the two cover pages, fearing that I might not see the same conflict in the poems. But as I made my way through it, I found that cover and poetry meshed perfectly. THE BOOK OF FRISK is first, a series of four nebulous poems written in a variety of styles. I was able to easily get lost in the language, which is dotted with rich imagery balanced by inconspicuous colloquialisms:

“Your sigh is full of poem readers.

Nothing can crush his haircut nor her monster truck.

A slathering of continuings taking only yes for an answer and the smell of clothes they slept in.

Oh, um yeah, hey.”  (From Bubble, Bubble, Bubble, Bubble, Cloud).

In a nod to the title of the chapbook, THE BOOK OF FRISK is indeed the longer of the two. The second section, THE BOOK OF RISK, is marginally distinct from its counterpart, employing more tangible imaginings:

“I am of a bus I just wrote into this poem because I sense and end is coming, a no in the length of a cigarette, but I am off the bus and walking. I am not taking a stroll or sauntering, I am walking inside black leather locking inside zipper Harley Davidson Motorcycle boots.” (From THE BOOK OF RISK).

I was especially taken a by a few phrases, specifically those that use grammatical dialect; they seemed especially eloquent:

“There is only a curb between us and the street

where our minds traipse inside quotation marks.” (From THE BOOK OF RISK).

I am still unclear whether RISK contains nine untitled poems or one lengthy work, but I enjoyed Horosky’s work nevertheless.

Light Sweet Crude – Lin Wang

 

I bought Light Sweet Crude from dancing girl press after reading an excerpt from the site, because I liked the writing style—it had a lot of interesting, incongruous metaphors and images. I received it two weeks later and proceeded to read through it, first in a fragmented, on-and-off manner, and then in one sitting. I think reading it twice helped me appreciate the poems both individually and as a whole. The book is a collaboration between two poets, Cynthia Barounis and Claire Leeds. The series of poems in this chapbook arose from “two poems, individually written, each addressing the topic of oil scarcity and natural resource depletion”—a description taken from the front of the book. The order of the poems in the book follows the original; they are written in response to each other, and are all somewhat focused on the idea of oil and depletion.

I was intrigued as to how this seemingly specific idea could inspire so many poems. Rather than revolving around the subject, as I expected, the poems focus on other topics, but still manage to relate an aspect of the poem to the idea of oil and the tension between its role and that of sustainable energy. One poem, “After Rabbits,” describes the escape of the classroom chameleon, only mentioning its “skin changing quick, / more liquid than the rainbow swirl of oil / on pavement”. This is the only explicit mention of oil in the entire poem; as such, the poems can be seen as ones that are informed by oil and its shortage, as well as the political ramifications of fossil fuels; however, they do not dwell specifically on them. I think this sort of narrative thread throughout the entire chapbook tied the entire thing together without making the ideas or themes tired or unoriginal.

As far as the chapbook design, I think it had a lot of potential that wasn’t fully executed in the making. The cover is fairly ordinary—a picture of a few windmills, a reflection on the idea of oil and alternative energy; the design is standard (at least, I guess so?) chapbook stitching. I think there was some potential in pointing out which author wrote which poem, so as to highlight the fact it was a dialogue—perhaps by putting poems written by a certain author in one font, and the other author’s poems in a different font. However, the chapbook was instead printed in Garamond and read as one uniform chapbook. Though I could distinguish differences in the authors’ styles—for example, one author makes use of lists, while the other uses line breaks in a distinctive fashion—I would have liked to know which author wrote which poem, even if it was only stated in the beginning and the rest was left for me to figure out. Overall, I enjoyed Light Sweet Crude—its themes and conception were interesting and the writing was well-executed, but I think the design could have taken the origins of the chapbook into consideration.

– Lin Wang

A Community Artist

A community is a straw belly deep in an untapped, cold slush of shared emotion and experience, sweet but stagnant. The artist is one blessed, maybe cursed, with thirst; a thirst that guides his lips to the end of the straw, previously only teased by gusts and weary flies. Each piece an artist creates is an inhalation, whether deep and enduring or sudden and jarring, that bids the slush rise within the straw bathing its insides (the minds and outlooks of a community and its participants) in the vibrant fluid of communal life like marrow coursing through an otherwise dusty bone.

Though, perhaps this metaphor falters in that it ignores one simple but unavoidable truth: the artist is not separate from his community. He is not a man peering through windows scrawling messages backwards in the steam-breathed glass so that if the partiers inside are willing to take their eyes off the butts stirring up their crotches they can read the wisdom of his observations. Rather, the writer is himself dancing the night away and is himself on the receiving end of an eager booty, which in this case represents the allures and sensual delights of the daily grind as well as the ever-present potential for pain and sadness. However, unlike the other dancers, the artist is called to take his eyes from the rump in his lap and look to the stage where sits the universe, congealed into a glowing mound of music.

He has heard the melody since birth and seen remnants of the soft shine in the stories of Grandma, Shakespeare, and all the poets and yarnsmiths he’s ever encountered, but only after seeing the simple, grand totality of the world for himself can he wield the light and fashion a disco ball to spew light on his fellow dancers and embolden the movements of all those with whom he shares the floor.

 Will Gillette

Laked, Fielded, Blanked by Brooklyn Copeland

“ You’ve received a book in the mail, no it’s too small to be a book- it’s a very big letter.”

“It’s my chapbook!”

“It’s a what?”

I wouldn’t let my mother open it, so she had to wait to see just what a chapbook is. As I drove home, eagerly anticipating the feel of the paper, the words inside-waiting for me to devour them, I imagined an 8 by 11 printed book, laying dormant in a large envelope, possibly squished by the harsh happenings of the mailroom.  When I entered the kitchen, there was a white bubble-wrapped envelope ready for opening.   A “thank-you” was sharpied across the seal. It was reassurance that the chapbook-culture is alive and personal. 

                The book was small, a half inch smaller than my hand. The paper felt like a mash up of toilet paper and yarn. It opened to a cardboard cover for structure, computer paper, and black ink.  I removed the textured cover and held it up to the light. Fuchsia leaves and mossy greens showed their outlines.  I’m sure I’ll try to copy the cover one day- if I ever find the tools. When I began to read, I let the words wash over me. It was simply written, and well spaced.  The phrase “the boat will stay afloat as long as you pretend to row” has stuck with me.  The dream like quality of the work is expressed in the cloudlike cover and texture.

Reviewed by Rebecca Cape

 

I’m Colin, Welcome to my Home

   On the first day of class, each of the new interns of Slash Pine Press was asked to ‘write freely’ about what it means to be a community artist or an artist within a community. On the surface, these questions may seem somewhat evasive in nature, but it’s really that kind of thinking that made me interested in the Press and interning with them.

I guess the obvious place to go is to tell you what I wrote. I will spare you the verbatim prose of an undergraduate English major. I am sure you already know it’s all wordy and pseudo-eloquent, and it bashes around the point until I run out of time. However, the main idea is still there, and it goes, to me, back to the nature of an artist. Some think of art as a solitary thing—the painter in the tower, the writer in the room, et al—but in reality, with no community to represent, art is simply self-serving [and in a frank personal opinion, kind of devoid of any actual merit]. Call me a communist hippie, but I tend to like every occupation to somehow work for a communal good, arts included.

Back to me. Not because I am conceited [even if I am] but because this is my first post here on the grand old intern blog, and you’re supposed to get a bit of me out of this, I think. I like to write things. Mostly true things. Hopefully those things make people smile or giggle or something…maybe not. Beyond that, I watch Netflix, go to school, and paint. Please don’t ask me what I am doing when I graduate in May. I might cry on you. Beyond those beyonds, and perhaps more related to this post, is a certain personal goal that I enjoy pursuing here and there. As a young writer who prefers reading his work aloud as opposed to the tedious publishing process, I try to create opportunities for other young writers to read when I have the opportunity. That is one of the things that draws me into this community of Slash Pine, and the Press world beyond that.

The press world, to me—an outsider dipping my toe in, or perhaps just jumping in—is a place where people take opportunities that are there, and when they aren’t there—by god, you literally make it. With your hands. A BOOK! That’s pretty awesome. Maybe my personal interest isn’t quite as tangible, but I am sure I can learn quite a few things from the interesting people I am going to be around. [To be fair, I already have]. Along the way, if I make something that puts someone’s words into someone else’s hands, what better coincidence is there?

Hopefully, I will have more words for you here soon! In the meantime, look out for me on Twitter with the official twitter @SlashPinePress or my personal one @Mr_Colin.