November 22, 2006

Pretty Shiny Things

Hey, Eleventh Muse--thanks for the Pushcart nomination! If you haven't seen the poem, "Unflown," it is not too late to buy an issue.

On Sunday I went to the Pyramid Midatlantic Book Arts festival--pages of all shapes, colors, fabrics, dimensions. A book that came bookmarked with its own brown wool hairball, 3 feet in diameter. A book that was illustrated using the dried and compressed offal of an animal, wrapped in the skin. A $360 book that was manufactured using 360 one-dollar bills.

It didn't take long to realize that these books are primarily marketed as works of art, not texts; most 8-16 page books were at least $35, and full-length collections (or broadsides) cost anywhere between $100 and $500. Some extremely limited edition pieces were in the stratosphere of $1500 or more. People literally wore white gloves to examine the merchandise.

As a lover of collecting, I was tempted. As a reader...not so much. The texts were mostly generic philosophical or witty obervations. Some craftspeople used the books as a form of vanity press. Poetry is a natural match for the book art format because of its brevity, but for the most part only the usual suspects were featured: widely-circulated work by Dickinson, Frost, Gertrude Stein.
Seems a shame that the best contemporary designers and the best contemporary poets aren't collaborating a little more.

A couple of welcome exceptions: The pictorial Webster's Dictionary by Quercus Press is a brilliant idea. I'd have been shocked if the Center for Book Arts HADN'T been there (poets, you have until DECEMBER 1 to submit for their contest). Representatives of the Ruthless Grip poetry crew were on hand--recently evicted by the Washington Printmaker Gallery in Dupont, their readings have moved to Pyramid Midatlantic's headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland). There were also compelling broadsides of poetry by Sara Langworthy and Brian Cohen (whose unbound "Bird Book" took home a juried prize).

Goal for next year: a table shared by Big Game Books and Foursquare. Show 'em how it's done, ladies.


Steven D. Schroeder said...

On behalf of the editors, you're welcome. :-)

Jessica Smith said...

sounds neat--
i agree that it's a shame that book artists don't collaborate more with writers. it's often the same problem with artists (um, visual artists) who use text--the text is often lame. but we poets don't go out of our way to collaborate with people outside our genre, and it's unfortunate. nevertheless i should come next year. i hear there's a women-&-bookmaking exhibit somewhere in DC as well?

you are the reason why I am considering entering anything from 4SQ into the Pushcart mess. I can't decide how I feel about contests, but I think your poem is good (obviously) and it works outside the 4SQ site/context.

so what's with these ruins at barboursville? where is that?

J.D. Smith said...


Eleventh Muse knows good work when they see it.

Sandra said...

Thanks Steve, and J.D., for the kind words!

Jessica--Yeah, I agree that we could probably do more to make ourselves available to visual artists for collaboration. I actually sent a note to one woman whose work I particularly admired, offering texts for the future...she'll probably worry about how the proceeds would be split. That's a disadvantage to working with someone outside your home community--there's no common expectations in place for dealing with finances, and artists tend to avoid talking about these issues

I think the book art exhibit you're thinking about is at the National Museum for Women in the Arts. I haven't seen it either, so if you decide to make a field trip let me know.

At Barboursville Vineyard (about 15 miles outside CVille, in Orange), there are the burned-out remains of a Governor's mansion designed by Jefferson. It is mainly known for an octagonal main room. It's a quick look-and-see but very atmospheric this time of year, and you can always go taste some wine afterwards.

As for 4SQ...well, I'm happy to even have my work considered on those terms, so thank you for the compliment. I understand your overall concerns.

For future years, you might approach it by nominating one ISSUE each cycle for the prize: all four authors. Selection of the issue could hinge on a single poem, or could be overall strength--that would be private and up to you, as the editor. Doing it that way would deemphasize the choice between individual poems, and also make a statement about the journal's emphasis on letting the texts speak to each other.

Don said...

I received a Pushcart nomination from the online journal "Lily" for "Secrets of the Underwear Drawer." The poem is at this link and below:

Secrets of the Underwear Drawer
by Donald Illich

What keeps me up at night
are thoughts that unbutton
themselves in mental drawers
I slammed shut years ago,
soldered tight, burned neurons.

Did she? And with who? Why?
Have I really lost track
of love’s capital, misplaced
old names of all its villages?

That's the business of commercials,
repeating their catchphrases
throughout my dream life,
overzealous employees even
bosses hate and wish they
could fast-forward into space.

"She'll never forget a diamond."

What if that's all she remembers?

After returning from the moon
in my electric Elvis costume,
I see her at a pawn shop
negotiating affection's value
at pennies per carat.
I slam a giant sardine against
the display window, cracking it.
I let her know I can help
a gambler with the shakes
by tossing a flaming matchbook
with my name on it toward
her strawberry pinwheel eyes.

Getting up from bed, still
not sure if I'm on earth,
I dial her number, hear
it's been changed. In my
brain something unzips.

Sandra said...

Don, congratulations! Who doesn't love a poem with the line: "I slam a giant sardine against / the display window"?

Sam of the ten thousand things said...

Congratulations on the Pushcart nomination for "Unflown".

Interesting notion about a mix of the best contemporary designers with the best contemporary poets. Thanks for the post.