30 December 2013

A good bet

A couple years ago, amid all the woe-is-books despair over e-readers, I made a prediction here on this blog about how the growing presence of electronic books might positively impact the quality of paper books. According to a recent Salon article called "The year the book became a luxury object," it looks as though I may have been correct in those assumptions. Good news for books arts to ring in the new year!

20 December 2013

Pretty good year

Time to put it all in perspective, so I can put my feet up for the holidays and feel content with my lot in life.

Highlights of the Year 2013:

  • I had poems accepted for publication in 5 literary magazines this year: decomP, wicked alice, Midway Journal, The Lumberyard, and  drumroll please  Fairy Tale Review!!!
  • My chapbook manuscript Imago was accepted for publication by dancing girl press! It will be released in early 2014 (perhaps in time for my first-ever AWP Conference in Seattle fingers crossed).
  • I took my first real vacation in several years and it was full of letterpress and book arts goodness against a gorgeous mountain backdrop. In August, I traveled with my best poet-printer friend Emma to the Appalachian oasis that is Asheville, North Carolina.
  • There was quite a bit of letterpress-printing fun back home as well.
  • I attended my first poetry conference in June and made some fabulous new poetry-friends. I'll be back at the West Chester University Poetry Conference again next year as well.
  • Annie and I held our second type-in and letter-writing social at the 2013 Chestertown Book Festival, though it couldn't beat the success of the first one. 
  • And even after a full year, I am still in love with my job at the Rose O'Neill Literary House.

Oh, to be relatively young and in poetry. 

09 November 2013

LibraryThing Early Reviewers: Love Among the Particles, by Norman Lock

I enjoyed these re-imaginings of well-known tales in Norman Lock's short story collection Love Among the Particles. Lock enters classic stories like Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde after the curtain has closed and the audience is beginning to file out of the concert hall, when suddenly the cast returns for an encore performance--a final scene after the final scene. He also does this with the iconic 1932 film The Mummy and visits Henry James in a fictional New York outside of his own novels. At times I was even reminded of Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics in the more conceptual stories like "A Theory of Time" and "Ideas of Space." Although I certainly wouldn't call these stories easy-reading, I think you'll find that the challenge is worth the time and attention.

I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.

05 November 2013

Elegy with Osage-Orange

Next fall Literary House Press will be releasing it's first poetry anthology, The Book of Scented Things: 100 Contemporary Poems about Perfume. Not only was I invited to co-edit this project, my boss (and LHP series editor, Jehanne Dubrow) also encouraged me to write a poem for it. Here was the prompt: you are given a specially selected sample of perfume and then you must write a poem that is inspired by or engages with that particular scent. We were pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic response we received from the poets we solicited to create brand-new poems for this special project and we have been blown away by the results of their writing experiments. 

But when I sat down to complete my perfume-poem assignment, I must admit to being stumped. My chosen scent was Lime Basil & Mandarin by Jo Malone. And I liked the scent and it did conjure up some vivid images, but the problem was none of them felt meaningful. A page-worth of purely descriptive passage is great, but why should I care about it if all of that description has no central purpose, has no real soul? And if I don't care, a reader sure as hell won't. I had to keep branching out to let more distant associations reach into my reasons for writing and take hold. 

Osage-orange photo borrowed from Springfield Plateau blog.

After watching and reading different reviews of this particular scent, the complaint about the mandarin scent being far too faint for some noses led me back to Louise Glück's well-known scented poem "Mock Orange"a favorite both of mine and of Jehanne'sas well as a solid foundation on which to build my poem. But as I was writing, what started as a response to Glück's poem turned into an elegy for my beloved grandmother, who died in 2011 after three years of Alzheimer's hell. In her backyard was a monstrosity of a tree called Osage-orange (or Hedgeapple, or what-have-you). When I was younger, my cousins and I were always disgusted by the softball-sized, reptile-skinned "fruit" that bombed the yard every fall. My grandmother called them Monkey Brains, so we did too, of course. I didn't know what they were really called until a few years ago. But the way these ugly, inedible things earned their "orange" descriptor is the distinctly orange-colored wood of the tree and the very faint citrus smell of the otherwise prohibitively-bitter fruit.

This poem prompt took me to a place I never expected it to take mea place of both guilt and grief surrounding the last few years of my grandmother's amazing life. But I'm so glad it did. And I hope you are as excited as I am to read this poetry anthology when it is printed in Fall 2014.

This foray into the world of perfumes has had other side effects as well. These past few months, my partner in perfumed-poetry has been introducing me to dozens of designer scents and along the way I discovered a fervent love for Creed's Spring Flowera perfume created exclusively for Audrey Hepburn and not released to the general public until 1996. And this frugal cheapskate tightwad (me) has finally worked up the nerve to buy her own bottle (at $165 for 1 oz.). But I have decided that indulging in really good perfume is just one of those rites of womanhood.

30 October 2013


I'm already starting to think about the shape my next chapbook will take. I want to write a group of poems that mashes folk and fairy tales with Roman Catholicism. I grew up a Catholic, and although my beliefs are certainly more agnostic than anything else, I was shaped by the grand aesthetics and stories of the religion. So these poems will also address childhood, especially in the way children are able to make those associative connections between ideas many adults would assume are mutually exclusive. 

Although, after a few months, I am still only three poems deep, when I found the title (back in June) I knew it would be a project that I would hold onto very stubbornly. 

Catechesis, (noun) oral religious instruction, 
formerly especially before baptism or confirmation 

That sounds a lot like folk tales, right? And so, even though the poems are still coming very slowly, the ones that survive my revising-while-writing process are strong. They have to have just the right amount of both main themes, balanced through careful language and intertwining stories. They address genesis and destruction, Catholicism and the pagan in folk & fairy tales, a strong presence of the natural world, and--above all else--girlhood.

21 October 2013

Serendipity in poetry

I have just returned from a great New England roadtrip in the name of my stepbrother's wedding. On our way to Rutland, Vermont, our route just happened to take us straight through the small town of Hoosick Falls, New York and then on past Bennington, Vermont. If either of those names sound familiar, it's probably because you just read my poem "Shirley Jackson is an Advice Columnist for the Bennington Banner" up on wicked alice. A mere 24 hours after that poem was published on wicked alice, the universe dropped its purely imagined setting into my lap. I love when the universe does that.

I wrote this poem as a kind of love letter to one of my favorite authors, Shirley Jackson, and my favorite of her novels, We Have Always Lived in the Castle. She spent a good portion of her life in Bennington, Vermont and much of her work was set in the midst of the American Gothic atmosphere of the New England countryside. If you have never read her, now is the perfect time of year to start.

16 October 2013

wicked alice!

My three poems "[Prospectus:]," "Shirley Jackson is an Advice Columnist for the Bennington Banner," and "Atomic Age 1" are up over at wicked alice for their Fall 2013 series. Except for the last one, these poems are contemplations on the possibilities that await me in spinsterhood. The older I get, the more attractive (and inevitable) those possibilities become. Have a read, if you please.

21 September 2013

Forthcoming: Fairy Tale Review!

On Thursday, I realized another poetry life-goal: Fairy Tale Review accepted my poem "Dorothy" for publication in their Emerald Issue, due out in March 2014. 

This is one of my absolute FAVORITE lit mags and I have been submitting to them for five years now. So I have reached another small landmark in my poetry-life. I would go so far as to say that this is equally as exciting to me as my chapbook acceptance earlier this year.

I am oh-so-happy!

I signed my first ever poem contract to give FTR permission to publish "Dorothy." What a strange, happy threshold I've crossed.

18 September 2013

Feeling festive

Heloise, my Underwood Standard No. 4, has a brand-new cozy and a fresh ink ribbon. She is ready to go for Saturday's type-in & letter-writing social at the fifth annual Chestertown Book Festival!

We'll be typing letters and making mail art from 10:00 a.m. to noon at Emmanuel Episcopal Church on Saturday, September 21 alongside the Book Makers' Exhibition. See you there!

02 September 2013

What I'm reading when I'm writing

Right now, it's:

1. The Complete Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales 
2. Transformations, by Anne Sexton
3. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks

 A lot of the poems I write are collages of what I'm reading. I'll take a few pieces from one book, a few pieces from another, and maybe even a piece from one more. Then I throw them into my poem-cauldron, stir them up a bit, and those chemical reactions create a new poem-story. Familiar characteristics are recombined to make a new whole.

The list of books above are helping me with a poem that re-imagines the classic Grimm tale, "The Maiden Without Hands." Key to this re-vision of the traditional story is what I learned from reading the title story of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Scientific anecdotes are, by far, my favorite way into the writing of a poem.

Research is such an essential (not to mention, fun) part of the writing process. Whatever I'm reading ends up becoming a part of what I'm writing. 

30 August 2013

Poem-children leaving the nest

As the new school year is starting up and all of the college students have returned to campus, it is time to start submitting some poems again. I slacked off quite a bit this summer in the writing department, but I still have a series of five unpublished poems from Imago that can be sent out to find lit mag-homes before the chapbook comes out next year. I also have two final sections of the "Atomic Age" poems to place somewhere. So I've sent some poem-bundles off to the following lit mags:
  1. Bone Bouquet
  2. The Collagist
  3. Sixth Finch 
  4. Sundog Lit 
  5. Yemassee 
Wish me luck!

24 August 2013

Letterpress meets iPad

During our nights in Black Mountain, North Carolina, where we didn't have internet access, Emma got out her iPad and we played around with a fun app called Letter M Press. A letterpress-printing app? Why not! You've also heard of the USB typewriter adaptation for laptops, right? How fun.

Anyway, here's one of the creations we made together on one of those evenings with Letter M Press:

I plan to print this using actual letterpress sometime soon. And, of course, I'll need to print it on the Lit House's Vandercook. It's only appropriate.

15 August 2013

Book Festival Type-in!

Annie and I are prepping for our second type-in and letter-writing social! After the surprising success of our first event, the Chestertown Book Festival invited us to be a part of the 2013 festivities.

On Saturday, September 21, Thread Lock Press and Scribbling Glue will be hosting a type-in and letter-writing social from 10:00AM-noon in a room just off the main Book Makers and Writers Exhibition Hall at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 101 N. Cross Street. 

Here's our brand-new mission statement:
This type-in and letter-writing social is a creative collaboration between Thread Lock Press, typewriter-enthusiast and letterpress printer, and Scribbling Glue, letter-writing champion and envelope-pusher. They are out to reintroduce people to old techniques for creating new and improbable connections.
After two solid hours of typing and mail art, we will scurry over to the main Exhibition Hall to man our exhibitor table for the rest of the afternoon. I will be bringing some of my typewriter and letterpress items from my Etsy shop for display and sale. It's only about a month away now, so mark your calendars, guys!

11 August 2013

August is for adventuring

Last week I drove nine hours down to the Great Smoky Mountain city of Asheville, North Carolina with my poet-printer-bookbinder friend Emma and her boyfriend Nick. We stayed in a little town called Black Mountain and took day-trips into the city (which was only about 15 minutes away). We chose Asheville for the mountains and the letterpress printing and the book arts; and we were not disappointed.

Day One: 
Downtown Asheville
  1. Breakfast was plate-sized, inch-thick sweet potato pancakes covered in pecans and maple syrup with a dollop of peach butter at the Tupelo Honey Cafe
  2. Then we wandered on to the Blue Spiral 1 gallery, where we particularly went to see a printmaking exhibit by Jessica C. White of Heroes & Criminals Press (and co-founder of Ladies of Letterpress) called "The Adventures of Prudence and Patience." We, of course, discovered much more as we walked around the gallery.
  3. We were still full of pancake in the afternoon, so instead of lunch, we decided to head to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge for some sweet snacks. My favorite was the Earl Grey truffle from their Tea & Herb Collection. Chocolate and bergamot ganache? Yes please!
  4. Our favorite bookstore was, by far, Malaprop's Bookstore and Cafe. The atmosphere inside was clean and welcoming and vibrant. And I was beyond impressed with their front-and-center poetry shelves featuring some of my favorite small presses, particularly Ugly Duckling Presse and Milkweed Editions. I also picked up a collection of short stories there by local Asheville author Nathan Ballingrud. I found myself compulsively consuming story after story in his book North American Lake Monsters from Small Beer Press--dark, supernatural, and so so savagely human.
  5. The Spice and Tea Exchange had a delicious and fragrant selection of teas and flavored sugars and captivating spices. I picked up some of their Blueberry Black Tea and I can't wait to try it. 
  6. Finally, we stumbled upon The Local Taco for our dinner that night. Amazing! Great service and atmosphere and such delicious and creative taco choices. 

Day Two: 
Penland School of Crafts
On our second day, we decided to go for a bit of drive to visit the Penland School of Crafts about an hour north of Asheville. Emma hopes to take a class here next summer, so we thought, why not get a look at it? Penland is a beautiful place full of very talented (and skilled) artists of many crafts: letterpress printing, papermaking and bookbinding, ceramics, drawing, ironsmithing, woodworking, glass, photography, textiles. Although it felt a bit like a summer camp, it is a place of learning for serious craftsmen/craftswomen and artists set against the lush backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains. We got to explore the gallery and grounds during our visit, including the now-unoccupied studios full of all of the impressive equipment that the Penland students got to use everyday in their classes.

Day Three: 
River Arts District, Asheville
  1. Once we got our bearings in the winding (less walkable) River Arts District in West Asheville, we visited the letterpress printing studio of Innerer Klang, where we talked letterpress with printer Mark Olson as his C&P 10x15 whirred in front of him.
  2. Our visit to Asheville Bookworks was definitely the highlight of the day though. We got a tour of their fabulous letterpress printing and book arts facilities. So many presses, even a paper-making studio, and screen-printing and photopolymer plate-making equipment. Oh, the studio envy! They were also advertising a series of events called Vandercooked Poetry Nights that I absolutely fell in love with. These nights would include a special printing session of a broadside of the featured poet's work on one of the Vandercook proof presses, followed by a reading from the poet. It really is amazing how often poetry and printing intersect. I begged one of the event posters off of them to frame and hang in my house. I just love it!
  3. Although they were closed, Emma and I peeked in the large windows of the 7 Ton Collective studio and shop. They are a group of printers, each running their own press ventures but sharing a roof. 7 Ton Collective is comprised of Quill & Arrow Press, ANNAND, and Tiny Story Factory. 
  4. For the rest of the afternoon, we returned to Downtown Asheville to revisit two favorites: French Broad Chocolate Lounge and Malaprop's Bookstore. But in our walking, we stumbled upon this wonderful boutique of local handmade, upcycled, and vintage goods: Garage 34. It was essentially a brick-and-mortar Asheville Etsy market. There were so many lovely items that I was tempted to splurge on, but in the end, I settled on a beautiful studded leather cuff bracelet.
  5. For dinner that evening, we headed back to the River Arts District to the White Duck Taco Shop. I had a lamb gyro taco with tzatziki sauce. In case it wasn't quite clear before, Asheville really does tacos exceptionally well.

We covered a lot of letterpress and book arts ground during our short time in Asheville. We definitely had a dorky vacation, which is to say we really had such a good time. 

All the same, it is great to be back home now with my crazy dog and snuggly cats.

02 August 2013

Dancing girls love typewriters too

Another title from dancing girl press
Further proof that my first chapbook found the perfect press. The newest dancing girl press project: an anthology of textual & visual creative works dedicated to the typewritten word called [carriage return]

I'm hoping to write a new poem or two over the next month or so to submit to this fabulous adventure in typewriter ephemera and poetry. I can't wait to see how this book project develops.

Tom Hanks is one of my favorite people.

27 July 2013

Having a Coke with You

July has been jam-packed with broadside-printing at the Literary House! We have been rolling up our sleeves, getting good and inky, and having quite a fun time in the process. I am especially excited about the broadside I designed for Elana Bell's poem "How I Got My Name (Jabotinsky)" and how well it turned out. I actually like to think of it as a companion piece to the broadside I designed in the fall for Idra Novey's poem "A History in Six Couplets." Displayed side-by-side, they definitely build on and complement each other.

A couple weeks ago, I heard from Idra again. She told me she was going to be in a wedding at the end of the month, reading Frank O'Hara's poem "Having a Coke with You." She and her friend had the wonderful idea of presenting a framed broadside of this poem to the bride and groom as a wedding gift, and Idra did me the honor of commissioning me to design and print it. What fun! So yet another July broadside was born.

Designing the Broadside:
After giving the poem a close read, I knew right away that I needed to use orange ink somehow. All the references to orange--"your orange shirt," "the fluorescent orange tulips," even "the warm New York 4 o'clock light" seemed orange to me. The poem praises an everyday sort of romance in the small, intimate moments that don't have an entry fee attached over the too-effusive, grand demonstrations brand of love declarations. This idea (and the title phrase) gave me my image. 

Using black watercolor, I painted the bottom rim of my coffee mug and stamped it twice in closely overlapping rings on a white sheet of paper. The consistency of the watercolor paint actually allowed me to capture the random splatter effect and the areas of uneven thicknesses in true water rings (file under: what kind of weirdo makes water rings on purpose?). Then, I scanned this on to the computer to create my design draft. The colored representations of water rings on a coffee table are also, of course, wedding rings. So this is where the orange ink would go. These rings are superimposed on the poem text, as if someone very lazily set their drink down on top of it. 

After tracking down a free font for the poem title that resembled the iconic Coca Cola typeface (the one I used is Loki Cola), the design was complete. And I was as pleased as if I had just made the best pun anyone had ever heard.

Printing the Broadside:
This design required the use of photopolymer plates for printing (which I have grown quite used to at the Literary House print shop). So I ordered those from the ever-reliable Boxcar Press, then our favorite creamy, mouldmade Arches Cover paper. The size of this design (10x12") also meant that using my little C&P Pilot at home was out of the picture, but luckily I have access to a marvelous Vandercook 4 Proof Press at the Lit House. So I tied up my apron and got to work. 

After cutting the huge sheets of beautiful paper to size and arranging the first plate on the type-high base, I got to mix ink! Making orange required a lot of Pantone Yellow and just a dab of Warm Red. And although it is a huge mess to clean up, the ink-mixing process is just so damn pretty to watch.

I printed the orange rings first. Then I let them dry while washing the press and the ink-mixing tools for the next pass--black ink. And this is where I ran into my only real difficulty. The elegant deckle-edge (which we always try to preserve as much as possible during the paper-cutting) at the top of the broadside made the text print at a slant because it was extremely hard to line the paper up precisely on the tympan cylinder without a straight edge as a guide. 

My solution: even with the deckle, you can always see where the paper mould ended because of the change in paper thickness where the pulp overflows it. The deckle is really just a thin fringe on the sheet. The mould line provided the straight-edge guide that I needed. So I lined up this subtle edge with another straight line on the cylinder and my margins printed evenly! Here's the final broadside:

Thank you so much, Idra, for sending this special project my way! I had such fun creating this for you.

P.S. Every time I read the title of this poem, Sufjan Stevens' sweet song "To Be Alone with You" starts playing in my head. Seems pretty fitting for an unconscious association.