Read ‘Helen in Egypt’ aloud, all the way through – check

In April 2013, I decided to try and read H.D.’s Helen in Egypt aloud, all the way through, and started uploading readings over at Voice Project: ‘Helen In Egypt’. Today, just shy of a year later, I uploaded the last reading and accomplished my objective. I read it in segments, over many months, and while I tried to keep recording conditions and delivery consistent throughout, there are inevitable variations in both at various points, which I hope any listeners the project may attract will forgive. The book may be listened to or downloaded in individual segments – by its three large sections, by individual books in those sections, or by individual parts in those books.

I was inspired to undertake the reading by this post at the Poetry Foundation, in which the author talks about how voicing, recording, and listening to poems he really wanted to get to know took the experience of ‘knowing’ a poem to a whole new level for him. Which sounds exactly right, and there is no question that I have had an entirely different engagement with and experience of Helen in Egypt through reading it aloud in so deliberate a fashion.

My warm thanks to the folks at New Directions Publishing Corporation, agents for the Schaffner Family Foundation, for blessing the project.

‘The Poetry Storehouse’ gains traction

Since we launched The Poetry Storehouse on October 15th, six poets (for a total now of 11 Storehouse poets) have thrown their poems into the mix. Many of the poems were captive print-journal poems that had been held in hard copy beyond the reach of links, search engines and the remixers who could give them a new lease on life. We also celebrated, sooner than expected, our first remix results. Check out the new poems and remixes here. If you’re a poet, consider submitting and if you’re a remixer, have at it!

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.

‘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.

‘the odoriferous products of the garden and the forest’

Let me recommend The Art of Perfumery And Methods of Obtaining the Odors of Plants by George William Septimus Piesse (published 1857, free download at Project Gutenberg). Some delightful excerpts:

From the Preface: By universal consent, the physical faculties of man have been divided into five senses,—seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling. It is of matter pertaining to the faculty of Smelling that this book mainly treats. Of the five senses, that of smelling is the least valued, and, as a consequence, is the least tutored; but we must not conclude from this, our own act, that it is of insignificant importance to our welfare and happiness.

From the table of contents for Section I, Introduction & History: Perfumes in use from the Earliest Periods—Origin lost in the Depth of its Antiquity—Possibly derived from Religious Observances—Incense or Frankincense burned in Honor of the Divinities—Early Christians put to Death for refusing to offer Incense to Idols—Use of perfumes by the Greeks and Romans—Pliny and Seneca observe that some of the luxurious People scent themselves Three Times a Day—Use of Incense in the Romish Church—Scriptural Authority for the use of Perfume—Composition of the Holy Perfume—The Prophet’s Simile—St. Ephræm’s Will—Fragrant Tapers—Constantine provides fragrant Oil to burn at the Altars—Frangipanni—Trade in the East in Perfume Drugs—The Art of Perfumery of little Distinction in England—Solly’s admirable Remarks on Trade Secrets—British Horticulturists neglect to collect the Fragrance of the Flowers they cultivate—The South of France the principal Seat of the Art—England noted for Lavender—Some Plants yield more than one Perfume—Odor of Plants owing to a peculiar Principle known as Essential Oil or Otto.

Of ambergris: This substance is found in the sea, floating near the islands of Sumatra, Molucca, and Madagascar; also on the coasts of America, Brazil, China, Japan, and the Coromandel. The western coast of Ireland is often found to yield large pieces of this substance. The shores of the counties of Sligo, Mayo, Kerry, and the isles of Arran, are the principal places where it has been found.

Of civet: In its pure state, civet has, to nearly all persons, a most disgusting odor; but when diluted to an infinitesimal portion, its perfume is agreeable. It is difficult to ascertain the reason why the same substance, modified only by the quantity of matter presented to the nose, should produce an opposite effect on the olfactory nerve; but such is the case with nearly all odorous bodies, especially with ottos, which, if smelled at, are far from nice, and in some cases, positively nasty—such as otto of neroli, otto of thyme, otto of patchouly; but if diluted with a thousand times its volume of oil, spirit, &c., then their fragrance is delightful.

And so on..

videopoem – ‘L’infinito’ by Giacomo Leopardi

Based on a recent Pizzicati of Hosanna reading.

Realized that so far it’s been mostly the Italian readings at Pizzicati of Hosanna that I’ve wanted to do video work for (hands-down favorite video so far: Forse Il Cuore by Salvatore Quasimodo). So far, we have three Italian videos, one Spanish, and no French. Still working out why this is so, especially since – knowing pretty much zero about any of those canons starting out – I am going for the obvious, the well-fingered and most-anthologized French, Spanish and Italian poems (whose authors are dead). The net result for me has been: very minor resonance with the French, somewhat more with the Spanish, and most with the Italian. They feel essentially very different to me. Foolhardy to generalize and stereotype, especially on so short an acquaintance, but I’ll stick my neck out and say the Italian ones have so far struck me as the most spiritually sophisticated. I’ll let you know if I still think that next week.

On a technical level, feel I may be getting to grips with layering. Still not able to get PowerDirector to do *exactly* what I want, but feel much more in control. This video stuff really “do by doing.” Impossible to lay out story-lines or visual narratives without getting hands on, without literally setting up the images and actually viewing them unfurl with the text. Neat sequences played out perfectly in your mind beforehand rarely work on the screen, I’m finding, and the process is essentially ‘well, that didn’t work, so how about this…?” repeated over and over again, until you get that right combination to which your whole body reacts. (Yeah – just like it reacts when you *know* you’ve found the perfect phrase or line for that poem you’re working on..).

nice things this week

Two reviews of Dark And Like A Web – yay! Beth Adams, in her note from the editor for Dark And Like A Web, spoke of ‘the pull of the divine, and the pull of the creative impulse, two forces not so separate as they may seem.’ And as I read other people’s take on these poems, I see more and more what she means. These are related impulses, very closely related. Are they in fact separate?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, blogging at Kristin Berkey-Abott

Part 1 – “Does the Delivery System Impact My Reading Experience?” Kristin examines the multi-format publishing model used for Dark and Like A Web here.

Part 2 – Kristin looks at the poems themselves. “I like the ambiguity of the lines [of the last poem in the collection]. Is the speaker talking to a lover? To God? Is the speaker God? The poem works on all these levels, and makes me want to go back to reread the whole collection some more, even though I’ve read it several times. Will I discover other submerged religious possibilities?” Full review here.

Donna Vorreyer, blogging at Put Words Together, Make Meaning

“My favorite poems in the book are three that contain prayer beads as an integral image. Prayer beads are concrete, physical manifestations of a very private communication with the divine, and they counterbalance the other focus of these poems, the beloved. In each of these poems, the relationship with the beloved seems ephemeral, but the associations with the beads connected to each one are profound and lasting, almost equating the beloved with the divine.” (Full review here.)


Two other nice things happened this week. One was this comment from Danielle Pafunda on Whale Sound. Danielle was revisting The Girls In The Apartment Upstairs, a poem of hers I read on Whale Sound last year. She wrote on Facebook this week:

Those Whale Sound archives are outta sight, aren’t they? Nic–your readings are so, how do I say it? Like intense analysis has happened and been translated smoothly into performance? Maybe the word for that is GOOD. I’m going to include them in the resources for my Mod & Contemp poetry seminar this fall–maybe one of the students will be inspired to try a similar final project!

This reminded me that another Whale Sound poet, Greg Sellers, (What The Wind Says) added Whale Sound to his “LibGuide for Poetry Writing” at the University of Alabama School of Library & Information Studies.

Define heaven, anyone?

A project of yours is flagged to students by teachers as worthy of attention. Woot, and woot again – I’m in heaven!

wearing motley

Sarah Sloat hits a Nic nerve with this blog post.

Yes. You SO have to watch out for pinched people. And not be influenced by them. Red and orange? Neverr! some conventional voice said to me whenever it was ages ago and from then on I never thought of them together, much less ever put them together. Until who knows why one day I suddenly said !screw that! and I only had to do it once and now it’s just me in the world all over – red and orange, RED AND ORANGE. Some pinched person on a listserv said not so long ago – NATURE?! why are people writing about fields and mountains when people are DYING in URBAN HELLS everywhere?! And I went gulp emotionally and began second-guessing my whole poetry landscape (which is, quite simply, cluttered with trees and mountains and owls and bats and NATURE), but not for long, only till I remembered red-and-orange, RED and ORANGE, and stopped gulping and went on my wicked motley-wearing way, rejoicing. You really have to watch out for pinched people.

death of the blog?

The death of the blog? People have been writing about this a lot lately. My sense is not death, just moving into another phase of life. Remember how the conventional wisdom was – you MUST update your blog regularly and frequently otherwise you will lose readers? Not any more. People read blogs via feeds, so it doesn’t matter if you post once a day or once a month, your post gets pushed out to their feed – they don’t have to keep checking in on a silent blog, to eventually give up checking.

snails and fiddlehead ferns

I’ve just strung these verbatim bits together from this amazing article, which is just full of potential poems. Putting ingredients together in new ways – what poetry is all about.

sea coriander and beach mustard
puffin eggs from Iceland
musk-ox meat
from Greenland

“People didn’t understand
what he was cooking. They wanted
foie gras. He gave them cloudberries.”

sea buckthorn, an orange berry with
outrageous tang
the buds of ramson flowers

“I didn’t come back to Denmark thinking,
I’m going to put a gel of a gel
of a gel on my monkfish liver while I whip
my guests with burning rosemary,” he said.

he and his team are working
on a new venison dish.
“We imagine ourselves
being the deer,” he said.
“What does it step on?”

His answer: snails
and fiddlehead ferns. “The flavors
will go together,” he said.

home again, home again

Finally back home after a long road-trip, internetting on the fly, not eating properly, barely exercising and reading much less than I had hoped. On the plus side of the ledger, I did finish Trollope’s Dr. Thorne and To the North by Elizabeth Bowen and also managed a fair amount of quite detailed tree-identifying.

On the flight home I read Prufrock and watched Tim Burton’s new Alice in Wonderland. The latter I thought well worth the time, with great interpretations by Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter, tremendous visuals, and of course, the brilliant dottiness of Carroll’s language + Burton’s direction underpinning it all. Not sure why I was reminded of Alice, reading Prufrock afterwards.

And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?