Announcing: The Poetry Storehouse – collaboration, remix, multimedia poetry

Think of The Poetry Storehouse as a get-out-of-jail card for poems long locked up in dusty print journals, beyond the reach of links and search engines. As we say over at the site:

The Poetry Storehouse is an effort to promote new forms and delivery methods for page-poetry by creating a repository of freely-available high-quality contemporary poetry for those multimedia collaborative artists who may sometimes be stymied in their work by copyright and other restrictions.

Technology has not just connected people and poetry and poets and artists who weren’t connected to each other before, it has also changed both the face and the delivery of poetry itself. Poems locked up in hard-copy print editions only available for sale are struggling in new and serious ways, while poems delivered in multiple creative ways online have new leases on life and are reaching an ever-widening audience.

With thanks to Rachel Barenblat, Donna Vorreyer, Erica Goss, Jessica Piazza, Swoon and Dave Bonta for being part of the Storehouse team. Go on over and check it out!

recruit actors to do the reading at poetry readings?

That’s what the UK’s Forward Arts Foundation did at their big poetry prize day in London last week, provoking much indignation among UK poets.

“On the way in to the event, a Forward Trustee told me that the origin of the actorly coup came from the premise that poets can’t read their work,” wrote a protesting blogger. She went on to characterize the evening as “a solemn, ponderous series of readings by a group of actors who made heavy weather of the poems.”

“If the motivation was doubt as to whether poets can read their own work well, that’s outdated,’ asserted another protesting blogger, adding that ‘one only has to go to a TS Eliot prize-giving or a major magazine launch to understand that most good poets are somewhere between competent and excellent at reading.” Am not sure I completely understood the rationale she then used to explain her position, but she went on to say that “most of the actors just didn’t inhabit the poems effectively. I think it was harder, hearing most of the poems for the first time and not knowing several of the poets’ work, to ‘get’ each poem than it usually is at readings. I don’t mean the ostensible subject, if any, but the motive force and the magical something that might make the listener/reader connect with the work.”

The Foundation’s response was, um, snarky: “The controversial decision to use actors to read the shortlisted poetry has provoked vigorous debate: some poets, publishers and bloggers insist that poetry should be read aloud only by its authors and no one else, while others reckon that a poem lives in the voices, ears and minds of the many, not the few,” it said on its website.

As my long-suffering readers know, I’m a big fan of the you learn way more about pretty much everything by reading other people’s poems to an audience or by having your poems read to you, than you do by reading your own poems to others school of thought. As such, I am very intrigued by this idea. Note that the actors provided their services free for the event.

Has anyone ever tried this? Asked an actor friend or friends to take the poet’s place at a reading? If not, do you think it might be a good idea to try, or a stinker? Why?

Meanwhile, here are some of the readings from the controversial Forward prize-giving event last week. There were three big winners – Best Collection, Best First Collection and Best Single Poem.

Best Collection – Michael Symmons Roberts (see him read on a different occasion here – jump to about 1:17 for the reading). At the prize-giving, actress Natascha McElhone read one of his poems, here. Roberts struck me as a competent reader, but I thought McElhone did a really fabulous job with her reading.

Best First Collection – Emily Berry. See her read here. Actress Helen McCrory read one of Berry’s poems at the prize-giving, here. An unfortunate stumble on the last line of the poem, but an otherwise engaging performance, I thought.

Best Single Poem – Nick MacKinnon. I couldn’t find any readings online by MacKinnon. His winning poem was read at the prize-giving by actor Samuel West, here – an excellent reading, in my judgment.

Very interested to hear others’ thoughts on all this. To close things out, here’s a great post from the Voice Alpha archives by Rachel Dacus (with discussion in the comments), on the advantages of having someone than the author read poems to an audience.

(Cross-posted at Voice Alpha. Hat tip Dave Bonta for pointing out the Forward story.)

Does ‘look of the line’ = ‘meaning of the line’?

E-book formatting is not the same as print formatting and e-reader devices definitely require us to recalibrate our relationship to text. Doing this seems to have been easier for readers of poetry (who seem, by and large, a flexible and open bunch), than it has been for many writers of poetry. Many writers of poetry can separate the look of the line from the meaning of the line, but many absolutely equate the two and flatly negate the possibility of separation. If, as a poetry publisher, you admit the possibility of separation, then, as Gabrielle David emphasizes below, your central task is to ensure that, no matter how the e-reader or the human reader adjust text size, the meaning of the line remains intact. I much enjoyed the post below from Gabrielle, in which she made this and other interesting points. Gabrielle’s post first appeared on the WomPo listserv and is reproduced here with her permission:

“I have watched the rise of the ebook biz and the various devices (many of which have come and gone) in the past six years. I understood that at some point I would have to consider ebook formats (for both phati’tude Literary Magazine and 2Leaf Press), and have been tinkering with the design and format of the ebook for quite some time, before coming up with a “recipe” that would address poetry and the issue of line breaks.

When you are dealing with multiple devices coupled with the fact that the end user has the ability to change the size of the font, it is a foregone conclusion that the text is going to shift. For years, the issue was the conversion of text through Word and other word processing programs which exacerbated this and other problems. At the same time, there is no standard way to convert text to reading devices, everyone does it differently, so ebooks have had their share of problems, primarily just really bad formatting of text (including poorly designed books and horrible editing), but in recent years, as the devices have grown more sophisticated, the reading public has demanded more for their money. The large publishing houses have scrambled to get people who know how to code ebooks and work with the latest technology to produce them (which they can well afford), but for the smaller presses, it’s just another resource that’s not readily available to them.

Since I have worked in the technology field for years, I was at a greater advantage and understood what needed to be done, but was in no great hurry to do it because the industry was changing rapidly, especially in the past five years. Right now, we are down to four major devices: Kindle, iPad, Nook and KOBO, including Android and Apple phones. While there are different nuances to each device and a standard ebook format continues to develop, its safe to say that the format issue as it pertains to poetry will always remain an issue because the lines will always change from device to device and end users will always control how text appears on their device.

Since most poetry books are published by small presses and many do not have the resources to convert print books to ebooks, coupled with the “hysteria” of the poets, many have not taken the plunge. I think this is a huge mistake. Poets and small presses are precluding themselves out of a market and a built-in-audience of poetry lovers who would like to read poetry on their devices. The public is buying more ebooks than print books. It’s a market that you simply cannot ignore if you want your work, including your poetry to reach a wider audience.

And really, the lines are handled just as they are in print — if it’s too long, you wrap with an indent to show it is a continuing line. Most poetry readers understand that in print, so if they see it on a reading device, they will understand it as well. To be sure, poetry with gaps of spacing, poetry typeset as a visual centerpiece to the poem is more complex to convert into an ebook. Right now there are two solutions: (1) working with someone who has a total understanding of the technology who can figure out ways to work around it, or (2) publishing the ebook with the lines flush left, but even that may change in time as the technology continues to develop.

Right now, the best way (in my humble opinion) to prepare ebooks is to hand-code the text using XHTML. This solves a number of problems: you have better control over line spacing and the flow of text, and as the technology changes, you can go back to your original XHTML file and update it. People are big on apps right now and interactive text (click and a photo or illustration pops up; click and music comes on), which is becoming popular in the children’s and YA market, but it also provides writers some creative ways to reproduce their books on reading devices. So by hand-coding books, your work is able to grow with the technology.

What’s happening is that these reading devices are providing a new stage on how we communicate through text — the world is no longer flat, it’s round. In fact, we recently released three poetry collections by Jesus Papoleto Melendez, Shirley Bradley LeFlore and Tony Medina, with more to come. Jesus’ poetry has lines all over the place and we were able to recalculate the spacing so that the work is not falling off the page/device. On the other hand, Shirley has extremely long lines, so we had to code for the indent to show that it’s all one line. When the ebooks are viewed in normal size they look just like their print counterpart on all of the devices, however, if the end-user decides to blow-up the screen, the meaning of the lines remain intact. In the end, I think that’s what really matters, when you format poetry in ebooks, the meaning of the lines remain intact (repeated twice here for emphasis).”

About Gabrielle:

I am the executive director of the Intercultural Alliance of Artists & Scholars, Inc. (IAAS) (www.theiaas.org), a NY-based nonprofit organization that promotes multicultural literature and literacy.  I am a lover of poetry, and have been reading, writing and studying poetry since elementary school through college.  I became involved in the NY poetry scene during the 1990s doing poetry programming at the Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center in Queens, NY, booking artists like Maria Gillan, Jesus Papoleto Melendez, Sonia Sanchez, Shirley Bradley LeFlore, Louis Reyes Rivera, among others. This program prompted the creation of phati’tude Literary Magazine (www.phatitude.org), and later on, the television program phatLiterature (http://www.youtube.com/user/gdavid01), which was videotaped at the Library and aired nationally on college networks and public access outlets. We recently launched our imprint, 2Leaf Press (www.2leafpress.org), which promotes multicultural poets and writers. 

on locking up poems

Poems locked up in hard-copy print editions only available for sale are struggling in new and serious ways, while poems delivered in multiple creative ways online have new leases on life and are reaching an ever-widening audience.

Nice article at the Best American Poetry blog on poetry collaboration & technology by Rachel Blarenbat. Short interview with me as part of it, and of course I had to make my favorite point.

negative capability & a letter to a young poet

… it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason [...] capable of remaining content with half-knowledge.

Have always liked that concept, as articulated above by John Keats. Same message from Rilke in the excerpt from “Letters to a Young Poet” envideo’d below:

I thought I knew that Rilke segment well, but, us usual, the ‘voicing’ process made me see I had only half apprehended it before.

who needs words in the age of the image?

…the most important language of our so-called post-literate society. The image. Ours is a world where the ability to communicate doesn’t require anything more than rudimentary reading and writing. And, in fact, sounds and pictures can do the job just as well.And given time constraints today, perhaps better. This is what virtual reality has wrought.The image is the new word. Don’t send a message expressing your emotion, send an image representing the idea.

[...]

It would be useful [..] to trace the history of Western civilization with an eye towards evaluating the war between image and word. Start with the Mona Lisa on one side and Don Quixote on the other and count up the wins and losses in each column [...] most realists among the wordsmiths already know that short of some massive cataclysm that lays to waste the electronic grid that makes the delivery of images so easy, we are pretty much done for.

From The War on Wordsmiths by Ali Eteraz – read full article here.

I don’t necessarily disagree with his premise, but do think there is a key distinction to be made between written wordsmithing and spoken wordsmithing. Which doesn’t much help the written word crowd, but does make the overall case for wordsmiths somewhat less dire.

‘You’re Going to Die, So Start Talking About It’

Consumers call [us] by the thousands and talk about death in the subjunctive mood: “Well, I don’t need your services now, but if anything should ever happen to me. . .”

Death is not an optional lifestyle choice that may not be right for you.

– Joshua Slocum, director of Funeral Consumers Alliance, a nonprofit that helps people avoid funeral fraud. More here.

This is the third post for which I’ve used my new Very Like A Whale death tag. Not sure why I’m making friends with death just now, with my life bouncing along quite happily as it is.

Or maybe that’s why.

Here’s a nice TED talk: Peter Saul: Let’s talk about dying

Poetry finally joining e-book revolution

Over the past two years, publishers have been steadily filling one of the largest gaps in the e-book catalogue – poetry.

Adrienne Rich, Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes and Wallace Stevens have been among the poets whose work recently became available in electronic format. And Random House Inc., W.W. Norton and several other publishers now routinely release new books in both print and digital versions, including last month’s Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry, Sharon Olds’ “Stag’s Leap.”

from the Associated Press, more here.

About time.

marketing your art

We strongly believe in free culture. Therefore all our films are free. We encourage you to mix, remix, re-edit or to make something weird, beautiful and original out of our work. If you [do] we’d love to brag about it. Send us a link and tell us about it, or just post it on our Facebook page.

I love it when people release their work freely into the world like this, for many reasons. But, quite apart from those, I see now that this approach is also, quite simply, fantastic marketing.

‘Lent/Elegies’ – interview #3 with a nanopress publication team

As promised in this post about three nanopress teams, here is the third of three interviews with those teams. (Details on the nanopress publishing model here.)

Lent / Elegies by Nicolette Bethel, edited by Sonia Farmer and published by A Place Without Dust Nanopress.

1.Talk about the collaboration process as it unfolded for you – did this experience differ from any previous experiences you may have had of editing or being edited? What would you change about the collaboration process if you were to do it again?

Nico: The process was very easy. I have worked with Sonia before, on my small-run handmade chapbook Mama Lily and the Dead and so I knew what to expect. I simply sent the series of poems I had worked on to Sonia with a couple of questions–such as which ones to get rid of, whether the titles were working, and what she thought we should do about setting them up. She told me not to get rid of any of them, that the title worked fine, that we should present the title as it is written now–Lent/Elegies–and she laid them out for me as a book. Then she sourced the cover image, which was perfect, finished the layout, asked me a couple questions about font and spacing, and did some minor copyediting. Voilà.

Sonia: The collaboration was precipitated by Nicolette who asked me to come on board in publishing her latest book in a rather unconventional way. We had worked together before to publish Mama Lily & The Dead under my press, Poinciana Paper Press, so we had a level of creative trust and understanding which I think led her to ask me to get involved in her next book. Coming from a sort of specialized tradition where my books are hand-made through various binding, letterpress and printmaking processes, I nonetheless love the ways technology helps us rethink the book as an object, so the nanopress model excited me and I agreed to help edit the collection. I can’t think of anything I’d like to change–it was a fascinating exercise.

2.The nanopress model is flexible in conception and intended to evolve according to the individual needs of individual teams. In its first conception, it envisioned the editor providing ‘macro’ input, mainly focusing on the substance of the collection, with the ‘micro’ side – the technical legwork of publishing and marketing – being the responsibility of the author. How did the division of labor work out for you?

Nico: The division of labour worked just fine for me. It is the kind of thing I love, and building on it I am now working with a graphic artist for a more traditional self-publication–she is doing the layout for me, and I am doing the fiddly editorial work. I am now promoting Lent/Elegies, if you can call what I do “promotion”– I’m mentioning it every now and then and getting people to think about looking for it when the moment arises.

Sonia: Though we may not have followed the model–I think Nicolette had a very complete collection of poems that didn’t need any rearranging or many tweaks–I feel like we divided the labor fairly. In fact I wouldn’t say we divided any labors exactly–we exchanged a lot of emails about creative decisions like cover art and the name of the press itself and such so it felt more like a true collaboration that I really enjoyed. In terms of marketing I wrote an article about it and Nicolette arranged a wonderful reading this year to launch it, plus we shared the blog with our individual networks. However Nicolette undertook the recording process for the audio component on her own.

3. Talk about the numbers of readers you have been able to reach – did you do a lot of, or not so much, marketing? If you did, how did you market the poems? What statistics can you share – would you fill in the blanks in the table below?.

Nico: As I’ve said above, I haven’t done very much marketing at all. However, just last week (April 2013) I participated in a reading at the university bookstore, all arranged and organized by the poet who shared the reading with me, and sold several printed versions of the book (30 in one week, a very good week indeed). In all, 53 print copies have been sold, and there have been 146 downloads of the digital version. The original 23 books were given away as presents, so “sold” to the author, or featured at the Bocas LitFest in Trinidad and Tobago.

Sonia: Unfortunately I am not sure how to assess that exactly, being a luddite! I have no concrete stats, but I did write two articles to promote the book that were published in the Arts & Culture section of The Nassau Guardian–one in-depth piece about the work and its fascinating publishing process around the time it launched, and another revisiting it for her recent reading and informal launch of sorts during a Meet the Writer series at the College of The Bahamas earlier this year.

4. In its first conception, the nanopress model envisioned that resulting poetry would be provided to readers either free of charge or, in the case of print versions, at base production price with no mark-up. Did you go with this model, or choose a different one? Why in either case?

Nico: The digital versions of Lent/Elegies are entirely free and can be downloaded in various formats from Smashwords, or read online on WordPress.com. The print versions have a slight mark-up of about $1.50. The main reason for this is that I have had to order the books myself in small bulk numbers to distribute to local bookstores, and I wanted the online price to be comparable to the bookstore prices in an effort to support those bookstores. I didn’t want to undercut local bookstore prices. Landed, the books cost me about $7 a copy, and that is what I sell them to the bookstores for. My suggested retail price for the books is $10. The Lulu price for the book is $7. The idea is that if one orders a copy online and one is in the Bahamas, one will discover that, once one has paid shipping and handling and duty, one could’ve gone to the local bookstore and bought a copy for the same basic price and far less trouble.

Sonia: We went with all possible models. From what I recall, the decision was really Nicolette’s which I was happy to back up.

5.How many publication formats did you choose to work with? Why?

Nico: I chose all the available formats because I wanted to see how they would be consumed. It’s been fun looking at the stats. I’m pretty chuffed with the numbers, even though they’re technically tiny. The only format still unavailable is the audio version, which takes time to prepare. I’ve begun recording the poems but haven’t yet achieved the quality that Nic wants me to, so that project is still unfinished.

Sonia: This is a similar answer to the previous question. For me really I was excited by the idea of providing as many choices as possible to readers, which is something the digital age can afford us. The idea of audio was intriguing to me and had me thinking–what’s next? A soundtrack to books that unfolds as we read? Why not?

6. Would you be willing to undertake another nanopress collaboration in the future, as either editor or author? Why or why not?

Nico: I would certainly consider it. I’d much rather be the author, though! Write the poems, the work is done.

Sonia: For sure–but for me it would have to be with a writer with whom I know I share certain creative sensibilities with. As an editor I like to have close relationships with the writers I publish so I can help them realize their vision in all its glory.

7.Is there anything else you would like to say?

Nico: I’ve always loved this idea. I really buy into the liberation being offered by digital publishing and Nic has tried to bring quality to the mix. Kudos to her.

Sonia: This was an inspiring experience that actually helped me overcome my technological prejudices as an avid chapbook publisher. I thought technology could only help print die, and but instead I see it opens up exciting alternate realities and I’ve started to explore what they can do for my handmade process in the future.

_________

Previous interviews with nanopress teams:

- Diagnostic Impressions – poems by Dana Guthrie Martin, edited by Donna Vorreyer, published by DNA Nanopress.

- Omer/Teshuvah – poems by Shifrah Tobacman, edited by Rachel Barenblat, published by Omeremo Nanopress.

‘Omer/Teshuvah’ – interview #2 with a nanopress publication team

As promised in this post about three nanopress teams, here is the second of three interviews with those teams. (Details on the nanopress publishing model here.)

Omeremo Nanopress published Omer/Teshuvah by Shifrah Tobacman, edited by Rachel Barenblat.

1. Talk about the collaboration process as it unfolded for you – did this experience differ from any previous experiences you may have had of editing or being edited? What would you change about the collaboration process if you were to do it again?

Rachel: I don’t think this experience differed from my previous experiences of editing, at least not experiences of editing poetry. There’s always a challenge in balancing one’s editorial sensibilities with the voice of the poet, wanting to be a helpful force for refining without overwhelming or overwriting what makes the poems unique in the first place.

Shifrah: This is the first time I have published a collection of my poetic work, and the first time I have worked with a poetry editor. I found it very valuable and was very grateful to have Rachel’s discerning eye on my work, and felt she did a very nice job of maintaining the balance she describes above.

2. The nanopress model is flexible in conception and intended to evolve according to the individual needs of individual teams. In its first conception, it envisioned the editor providing ‘macro’ input, mainly focusing on the substance of the collection, with the ‘micro’ side – the technical legwork of publishing and marketing – being the responsibility of the author. How did the division of labor work out for you?

Rachel: I focused both on the substance of the collection and on the technical legwork of publishing: manuscript layout, working with CreateSpace, etc. I set up the book’s website. Shifrah worked on marketing.

Shifrah: I am curious to know how Rachel might have felt about our division of labor. Since book publishing was new to me, and my expertise was limited when it came to the technical end of nanopress publishing, I leaned on Rachel a good deal for support in this area. She graciously took this on, although it may have been more than that for which she originally bargained.

One disadvantage of our particular division of labor is that some of the technical control of the CreateSpace account ended up as Rachel’s responsibility, and out of my control, which I think is challenging for us both.

In addition to marketing, I spent a good deal of time considering the art work used, finding an artist to work with, considering how I wanted the words to fit on the page, the amount of white space I thought matched the sensibility of the collection, etc… in other words, a number of aesthetic issues which needed to be considered and re-considered as we went along. Rachel was an excellent advisor, but these were decisions that were and ultimately needed to be mine to make as the artist. This may be an advantage of the nanopress model, where the artist is closer to the production than she or he might be in a traditional publishing approach.

3. Talk about the numbers of readers you have been able to reach – did you do a lot of, or not so much, marketing? If you did, how did you market the poems? What statistics can you share – would you fill in the blanks in the table below?

Rachel: We’ve sold 227 books in total, 32 via Amazon and the rest via the Createspace e-store. The only marketing I did for the book was to create its (very simple) website and to share that website in a publication announcement on my blog. I also mentioned the book, and linked to it, in the collection of Omer resources I made available to my congregation.

Shifrah: This is probably the most difficult and frustrating part for me about this model of publishing. Marketing is not my strong suit. I think this is less a matter of ability and more a matter of time. I would love to have hours to devote to blogging and making Facebook entries, contacting book stores and calling synagogues that might be interested in selling the book, offering readings and workshops to promote it. But the truth is I only have a very limited amount of time for these activities, so sales remain lower than I would like. I could definitely benefit from teaming up with someone who could assist with this aspect of the project.

4. In its first conception, the nanopress model envisioned that resulting poetry would be provided to readers either free of charge or, in the case of print versions, at base production price with no mark-up. Did you go with this model, or choose a different one? Why in either case?

Rachel: We opted to offer the collection with a very slight mark-up — each copy costs $7, which is close to what CreateSpace makes them for. My memory is that we opted for a slight mark-up because we wanted Shifrah to receive some compensation, however nominal, for her creativity. We offered a selection of poems from the book online, but not the whole manuscript; my memory is that Shifrah wanted the book to be out there in print form, to be touched and held and used as a physical object in the world, but not as a digital download.

Shifrah: Actually, I would be happy to also have the book available as a digital download, but have not made that happen yet. I have wavered about what format to use for that.

Rachel is correct. We opted for a slight mark-up, partly for compensation purposes, but mostly to cover costs I incur in the process of marketing the book (making flyers and buying snacks for events, buying supplies for workshops, covering car travel, etc.) When I sell hard copies myself, I sell them for $12 to cover shipping and handling and yield a small profit.

Needless to say at the rate we have been selling these, profit margins remain low, which is fine. This collection is meant to enhance people’s spiritual practice, not to be a big money maker.

5. How many publication formats did you choose to work with?

Rachel: Just the one: a print book.

6. Would you be willing to undertake another nanopress collaboration in the future, as either editor or author? Why or why not?

Rachel: I would definitely be interested in doing this again, from either side of the table. I enjoy the creative collaboration which arises in a good editorial relationship. I like this model so much better than pure self-publishing (in which there are no checks or balances for the author’s sense of what’s best for the work.) And given that we live in an internet age, the age of the long tail, this is a great way for authors to get their work out to people who would enjoy that work, even if the manuscript in question isn’t going to win the Yale Younger Poets prize or what-have-you.

This actually isn’t my first nanopress, or not exactly, anyway. I’ve done two similar projects. In 2006, my short collection chaplainbook (a collection of chaplaincy poems) was printed via print-on-demand after undergoing editorial input from several literary friends. I posted about that experience on my blog at the time: the chaplainbook story.

And in 2009, I released my chapbook Through, a collection of miscarriage poems, also via print-on-demand, after putting it through the editorial refinement of working with, again, several literary friends whose judgement I trusted. (Here’s my post about it.) Through is available at-cost, and also as a free download; I wanted those poems to be available to anyone who suffers miscarriage, regardless of their ability to pay. (You can find both of those in my lulu store.)

Shifrah: Ditto for me on the collaborative and co-creative process. I love that, and this was not exception.

_________

Previous interview: Diagnostic Impressions – poems by Dana Guthrie Martin, edited by Donna Vorreyer, published by DNA Nanopress.

Interview coming up soon: A Place Without Dust Nanopress, which published Lent / Elegies by Nicolette Bethel, edited by Sonia Farmer.

‘think on the slug’s white belly, how sick-slick and soft’

A Way to Love God by Robert Penn Warren new up at Pizzicati of Hosanna. I felt one way about this poem when I read it online, another way when I recorded it, and another way still now it’s uploaded.

It reminds me of Olduvai Gorge Thorn Tree by Sarah Lindsay.

Meanwhile, the Helen in Egypt project is progressing. I am sinking into it, or it is sinking into me. Still not sure why I am doing this, but there are 20 books in its three sections, of which two are up. Which makes the project 10% complete.

‘Diagnostic Impressions’ – interview with a nanopress publication team

As promised in this post about three nanopress teams, here is the first of three interviews with those teams. (Details on the nanopress publishing model here.)

Diagnostic Impressions by Dana Guthrie Martin, edited by Donna Vorreyer, was published by DNA Nanopress.

1. Talk about the collaboration process as it unfolded for you—did this experience differ from any previous experiences you may have had of editing or being edited? What would you change about the collaboration process if you were to do it again?

Donna: It developed rather organically. Dana began posting the “impressions” (the smaller poems) on Facebook, and I made the comment that they would make a wonderful chapbook. When Dana began to consider putting together the pieces as a collection, she asked if I would be willing to participate in the nanopress model as editor, which I was thrilled to do. I have been an admirer of Dana’s writing for quite some time, and, as an educator, the topic was also one that I knew was important to bring to the public. Serving as a sounding board to bring the project to life was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

Dana: I had seen Nic’s post calling for others to take part in the nanopress model, and I wanted to try that out. I’ve had work published more conventionally (i.e., in literary journals and through independent and boutique presses) and wanted to see what would happen when working within the nanopress model. Donna is one of the few poets I would have trusted in the editor role, and I was eager to collaborate with her. The only thing I would change is that I would make it not be a one-off undertaking. I would love to see our roles switched so that I might serve as editor on a work of Donna’s, still using our signature DNA Nanopress name.

2. The nanopress model is flexible in conception and intended to evolve according to the individual needs of individual teams. In its first conception, it envisioned the editor providing ‘macro’ input, mainly focusing on the substance of the collection, with the ‘micro’ side – the technical legwork of publishing and marketing—being the responsibility of the author. How did the division of labor work out for you?

Donna: I would say that we definitely followed that model. Dana did ALL of the work of creating and publishing the website, while I focused on how to present the work in its different incarnations. Dana originally had a different idea for how to make the impressions “jump” from the original poem, but it proved technically challenging. As she wrestled with the typography issues that would make the reading experience unique, I recorded the impressions section, at first to hear how these pieces sounded as individual poems. I felt it was necessary to see if the short impressions worked as a series of short poems, if they had a sensible progression or arc of their own outside the realm of the home text. Deciding how to read them made that process easier for me.

Dana: We did follow the model, and Donna is right about the frustrations that arose. Presenting the poems with parts obscured/deemphasized was not as easy as I thought it would be. Compounding the problem, a presentation that would work across multiple formats, including mobile apps and in print, as well as on the site itself, was impossible. We finally decided to drop the mobile version, and the print version is still in the works.

The other issue that I didn’t anticipate was how much the process would aggravate my dyslexia. That’s funny, given that the collection deals with my dyslexia. Presenting the poems in the manner we eventually agreed on—using different font sizes to signal foregrounded and backgrounded text—made formatting the poems on the site much more difficult (you should see them in html view!) and made proofing nearly impossible. Actually, I’ll show you an excerpt of what the poems look like in html view, just so you have an idea of how gnarly they looked:

code image

I mean, yuck. And then, to make things more complicated, dealing with one poem that has twelve overlays meant that extremely careful editing was needed to ensure that these texts, which looked so similar but were so different, were each treated accordingly. It would have been so easy to improperly format a word or punctuation mark without realizing it.

The print version of the collection is actually still in the works because I don’t trust my editing on it. I don’t know if I will ever trust my dyslexic eye enough to let that piece go to print.

3. Talk about the readers you have been able to reach – did you do a lot of, or not so much, marketing? If you did, how did you market the poems?

Dana: I know a number of educators and counselors who work in the area of dyslexia assessment and support. I also belong to several dyslexia groups on Facebook. I put the word out through those channels, as well as letting friends and poets know about the collection. We received a lot of support but I don’t know that the collection has made its way into the dyslexia community in the way that I would like. There are still ways to try to accomplish that, such as editorial coverage in publications that focus on dyslexia, making organizations that deal with learning disabilities aware of the work, and getting it into more K-12 classrooms.

My concern with the collection being taught by middle- and high-school instructors is that some might not know how to approach the topic because they don’t fully understand the various manifestations of dyslexia. It’s hard to be comfortable with presenting material you don’t comprehend. The challenge with regard to teaching Diagnostic Impressions is larger than the collection itself; an awareness of dyslexia is needed before it can be taught. However, it’s that very lack of awareness that makes texts like this important. So where do we start—with the texts or with awareness? We need a way in, but a lack of awareness presents a barrier to these texts, while a lack of texts makes it harder to achieve awareness.

Donna: I originally shared it with colleagues and friends in both teaching and poetry circles and got positive feedback. I think that Dana’s comments above are accurate—even as an experienced educator, understanding dyslexia and its different manifestations is a challenge. This is why I felt so strongly about getting the collection out into the world.

I recently used the collection in my own middle-school classroom as a part of a unit about identity and labels. I started with some of the teaching suggestions on the site and the students’ own perceptions of what dyslexia meant. Not surprisingly, many were convinced that it meant that people “switched their b’s and d’s” and other common simplifications. We first discussed the long version of the poem “(diagnostic)” in order to discuss the emotional impact of something that makes you different than others, something you can’t control. They responded with great empathy and many questions, which led to our readings of the impressions.

As a culminating activity, I gave the students copies of “(diagnostic)” to create erasures, therefore forcing them to experience text in a nonlinear way. Their erasures were so mind-bogglingly perceptive that we may end up putting some of them on the site as companion pieces. Hopefully, because of the fluid nature of the nanopress model, it will continue to both grow content and grow an audience.

4. In its first conception, the nanopress model envisioned that resulting poetry would be provided to readers either free of charge or, in the case of print versions, at base production price with no mark-up. Did you go with this model, or choose a different one? Why in either case?

Donna: We thought, especially with the importance of the topic, that this model was ideal for getting the collection into the hands of as many people as possible, especially teachers who often don’t have the budgets for something “extra” like a poetry collection.

Dana: The site is open to anyone, and the PDF and Issuu files can be downloaded for free. The audio component Donna recorded can be heard or downloaded for free as well. When we complete the print version, it will be made available in accordance with the model defined above.

5. Would you be willing to undertake another nanopress collaboration in the future, as either editor or author? Why or why not?

Dana: As I said, I would love to work as an editor on a nanopress project with Donna. She and I have shared work with each other for a long time now, and I feel like I could be of service to her in an editorial role. However, having seen all the issues we encountered during the production of Diagnostic Impressions, I am not sure Donna would want to enter into a nanopress undertaking.

Donna: Well, it was not frustrating on my end at all, so I would love to try the model again. Dave Bonta’s recent collection that involved poems and photography intrigued me very much, and if I decide to pursue another nanopress project as the writer, I would certainly want Dana to be the editor. She is a perceptive reader of my work, and everything she gives me feedback on is better in revision as a result.

6. Is there anything else you would like to say?

Donna: One of the best things about working with Dana is her wide-open heart. Her writing is honest and intensely personal, yet always universal at the same time. In a world where people are isolated by and judged for their differences, Dana’s work is an excellent reminder that differences are what make us unique and able to love and be loved.

Dana: One of the most beautiful things about this collection is the fact that Donna ended up reading my work in the audio recordings for the site. That choice brought a new layer to the project. I was honored to have her read my poems, to hear them in her voice as processed by her mind and heart.

Also, I would like to say this: You can be anything you want to be. With the right support, with unwavering love, and with dogged determination, we can all live free from the drowning stigma of labels and the obstacles those labels often imply, enforce and justify. If anyone labels you and attempts to turn that label into a prison, find a home outside those confines. Stake claim to your own place in the world, then find a world inside your heart, and you will be just fine.

_________

Interviews coming up:

Omeremo Nanopress, which published Omer/Teshuvah by Shifrah Tobacman, edited by Rachel Barenblat.
A Place Without Dust Nanopress, which published Lent / Elegies by Nicolette Bethel, edited by Sonia Farmer.

collect for a dark evening, with video

beloved, you were like octopus
proceeding in pulsing clouds
of black ink

calamitous designs
sprang whole from your mind
and exploded into life
as flying steel and iron-toothed trap

it was always my bone, my muscle
they mangled and spat out

you hurled us into chill wars
fought in forests of spider trees
against aging warriors
whose battle rhythm was not ours
but you always fought longest
and fell last

now you cross
the miles of destruction between us
hunting my last thought, lamenting
in this derelict church

the flutes are silent
I say, weeping

you say: don’t fall into the moat
something lives there
and it eats

you say: death
is a blooming rose

multi-format poetry publishing, cont’d

Check out this awesome web-page. This is how poetry should be published!

We blogged about Dave Bonta’s Twelve Simple Songs before, but there’s more now. From a single online location (Dave built a dedicated page for the publication), you can read the poems via Issuu on the web, download a PDF of the poems, download an MP3 file of the author reading the poems, or purchase (at cost-price) a print edition of the poem. You can also watch an awesome videopoem someone made based on the poems, read for the video project by someone else.

Poetry publishers take note. It doesn’t get better than this!

Other relevant multi-format publishing posts from the Very Like A Whale archive:

- multi-format poetry publishing!
- Want poetry readers? publish in multiple formats, some free
- Multi-format poetry publishing – production steps