‘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.

Published by

Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

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