31 August 2006

W A R : by Kathleen Fraser and Nancy Tokar Miller

In the Chax Press studio, and in Nancy Tokar Miller’s art studio, we’re working on a terrific book. We’re printing the poem, Text from W A R, by Kathleen Fraser, on wide sheets of Rives BFK gray (which prints like a dream, although you do have to watch the ink saturation carefully), on the Vandercook press, at Chax Press. Meanwhile, the images, by Nancy, are emerging powerfully as she works with black ink and a rectangle of linoleum, using that linoleum as a paint brush, dragging it across the page in various ways. Sometime in early October, the book will be finished, bound without sewing, in a book that will exist in some 40 copies, hand bound in cloth over boards. Parts of the images will be printed, part hand-painted in the book. Hopefully coming to a special collections library near you.

Here’s the beginning of the text:

rolling against the wall in massive wAVEs so that he should not be one of those

had never—in actuality—been required to know who he was and to die as who he had not been

Siege in our own cities can begin to imagine more deeply, one leg ahead

in language under erosion our trust in corrosive repetition

A quick digital photo image of one of the paintings in the book:
image in progress for W A R

An image of Nancy Tokar Miller’s work table with this project spread upon it:
Nancy Tokar Miller's work table for W A R

Here’s Nancy, together with Cynthia Miller (no relation to Nancy Tokar Miller; Cynthia is a visual art consultant on the project). Nancy is to the left.
Nancy Tokar Miller & Cynthia Miller (no relation)

Here's Kathleen, in a photo she sent us for use in publicity for the Tucson Poetry Festival that occurred not quite a year ago.
Kathleen Fraser

The bulk of the typesetting in W A R was accomplished by Jessi Atwood, an artist who has been working at Chax for about five years as a volunteer, in the process becoming very adept at typesetting, letterpress printing, and hand bookbinding. She has just left Chax for New York, where we wish her well. Here’s her last picture in the Chax studio, together by the Vandercook press with me, and with our newest and youngest volunteer, Angie Fagg, who is just beginning college at the University of Arizona. In the photo, Jessi is in the middle, wearing the printer’s apron.
Angie, Jessi, & Charles at the Vandercook Press

Cheers! and a very deep thank you to Jessi for her years of friendship and help. And she’ll continue to work with us from a distance, though we’ll miss her dearly in the studio. Meanwhile Angie and I were printing today, a difficult day when the high humidity in the studio made the ink behave strangely. But we made progress. And we’ll make more.

30 August 2006


Today I finished the cover design, actually a couple of versions of a cover design, for AFTERIMAGE, by Charles Borkhuis, to come out from Chax Press in about a month. Also tried to do what I could to hasten the cover design of SWOON NOIR, by Bruce Andrews, hopefully to come out about the same time. Both of these books are pretty much complete and ready to go to press, pending one more look by the authors.

More paper came into the studio and our great intern/volunteer, Angie, cut that so we can print the last four pages of WAR, by Kathleen Fraser, with images by Nancy Tokar Miller. Last four pages of the poem, that is. The images will be printed next week & the following week, & hopefully we'll then move on to binding. This one is a hand printed, hand bound book that is a particular & marvelous conjunction of book art, visual art, and poem. It will exist in about 40 copies, perhaps 25 available for sale, and be available sometime in October. I"m going to post more about it soon, with some photos of the studio work in progress.

I also sent the corrected proofs for a fine letterpress book, SALT, MY LOVE, by Patrick Pritchett, back to the typesetter today. Our new intern, Jesus Garcia, carefully proofread it for us, and I reviewed his work and sent it off. The 12 pt. Perpetua font for that book looks terrific. I went over the page proofs for an artist's book by local artist (one of the best visual/performance artists I have ever known) Dennis Williams, who was chosen in a grant award contest we had last year for proposals to have an artist's book produced by Chax Press. This one will be a photocopy, on acid-free paper, of his unique documentary notebook journal, and will likely exist in about 100 copies, most bound in found notebooks, likely covered with weathered papers, but about 26 reserved for a special binding we are developing. At this point the working title is ENVIRONMENTAL REPORTER, but that could change. Finally, I did some work on the layout of ANALECTS, by Glenn Mott, another book to come out this fall about which I am tremendously excited.

The only book currently in progress on which I didn't do any new work today is MEDITATIONS IN CROWDED AIR, by Gene Frumkin. That one is coming along very well, but I am doing part of the work along with former intern Mridul Nanda, who is now in Phoenix, and the current work is in her hands. It will make more progress soon.

That's seven books in progress at present. They will very soon be joined by others: books by Beth Joselow, Tim Peterson, Linda Russo, Jeanne Heuving, Jefferson Carter, and John Tritica. Most of these will be out from Chax Press before year's end, but if one or two have to wait just a bit longer, for reasons of design needs or financial needs, or whatever the book takes, that's all right. We have other books to come, too, after these — terrific books (as are those I have named already) by Sarah Riggs, Steve McCaffery, Michael Cross, and more!

Chax Press is a lot of fun right now, & a lot of work!

Stay tuned.

28 August 2006


I have sometimes in the past been puzzled, or more accurately, annoyed, by people who question the borrowing of form or process from another poet. Most often that questioning has to do with forms that have been, sometime in the last hundred years or so, considered avant-garde or experimental. In other words, the claim has been, it’s not OK to use a form that looks or sounds like a Gertrude Stein stanza in meditation, or a Jackson Mac Low deterministic process, or a John Cage mesostic; yet it seems perfectly all right, with critics who don’t like such borrowings, to write a sonnet or a sestina or a villanelle. So maybe this is just a case of what Charles Bernstein calls official verse culture dismissing what is outside its veins and arteries. Yet I’ve even heard poets I consider experimental proclaiming that they can’t do a certain thing in a poem because it sounds too much like Stein, or because Charles Olson did that, or some such thing. Don’t forms created in the last hundred years deserve as much chance to become a part of the received tradition, there for use, as forms developed in the Renaissance or 18th Century or some other period in the more distant past? Doesn't one use a particular form because she or he feels the writing in process has a great need to use that form? And why is such a repository of forms and processes important, anyway? Well, maybe it’s not, or maybe the question isn’t the form, whether experimental or “traditional,” maybe it’s the spirit in which the form is used. This is why I was glad to come across, in this weekend’s reading, the following by Wasily Kandinsky, from “On the Question of Form,”

To use a borrowed form is called a crime, a deception, by the critics, by the public, and often by artists. In reality, however, this is only the case if the “artist” employs these borrowed forms without internal necessity, thereby creating a dead, lifeless semblance of a work of art. If, however, the artist makes use of one or another “borrowed” form, according to inner truth, in order to express his inner emotions and experiences, he is exercising his right to make use of any form that is internally necessary for him—no matter whether it is an object of everyday use, a heavenly body or a form that has been materialized in art by another artist.

This whole question of “imitation” is in any case far from having the significance that criticism attaches to it. The living remains. The dead disappears.

Indeed, the further we look into the past, the fewer imitations, sham works we find. They have mysteriously disappeared. Only the genuine art-objects remain, i.e., those that have within their bodies (form) a soul (content).

Further, if the reader looks at any object he pleases on his table (even if it is only a cigar butt), he will at once notice the same two effects. No matter where and when (in the street or in church, in the sky or the water, in the stable or in the woods), the same two effects will everywhere become manifest, and in every case the inner sound wll be independent of the external significance.

The world sounds. It is a cosmos of spiritually affective beings. Thus, dead matter is living spirit.

(Lindsay, Kenneth C., and Peter Vergo, eds., Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art. De Capo Press, 1994. pp. 249-250.)

26 August 2006


David Abel just sent an email noting the reappearance of The New Combat, as a memorial to Kemal Bakarsic, who died this summer. Kemal's essay there, "The Libraries of Sarajevo and the Book That Saved Our Lives," tells a very big story, one still appropriate to our moment.

Here is David's note, with the link to the article.

"The attack lasted less than half an hour. The fire lasted into the next day. The sun was obscured by the smoke of books, and all over the city sheets of burned paper, fragile pages of grey ashe, floated down like a dirty black snow. Catching a page you could feel its heat, and for a moment read a fragment of text in a strange kind of black and grey negative, until, as the heat dissipated, the page melted to dust in your hand. . . . "

That's a paragraph from the middle of a short article by Kemal Bakarsic, "The Libraries of Sarajevo and the Book That Saved Our Lives." I've read that paragraph to audiences many times over the years, as part of
lectures/performances related to the experiences of books.

The article was first published in August 1994, in Bill Ney's political magazine The New Combat. As a memorial to Kemal, who died this summer, Bill has begun to resurrect The New Combat online, beginning with a reprinting of that article (and other material to come, he says).

Rereading it now, I wanted to share it with as many people as I could. So I hope that if you read it, and it moves you, you might forward the link to others.

For Kemal's sake (and perhaps my own), I hope that Bachelard was right (in the final paragraph).


25 August 2006


I am a poet! I am! I . . . ma’am?

I am a poet because of the pleasure I afford as sight, sound, and intellection.

I am a poet because I

        phan your poeia

        mel your poeia

        log your poeia

I am I because your little dog knows herself.

Whenever I speak, who speaks?

I had thought death had undone so many.

The center can not hold mustard.

This is my blog, renewed. It begins on August 25, my mother's birthday, though she will likely never look at a computer screen in her remaining years. I blogged briefly and in dispersed spurts in parts of 2002 and 2003 (and if you scroll down far enough you can find some of those old posts), but this time I do it with more thought and more commitment to continue it for a good long while. I will attend it about once a week, with notes on books, poets, book arts, poetics, and related matters. Some of the posts will be from drafts of a book in progress, a critical/experiential book on poetry and poetics I hope to finish within the next two years, perhaps sooner. Once in a while I may post a poem, either finished or in progress. Usually I will post one note a week, but I might sneak in some spontaneous shorter posts now and then. The comments box will be open, but because my blogging has to fit around other writing, Chax Press work, teaching, design jobs, parenting, etc., I likely won’t be able to spend more than a half hour per week reading and responding to comments. If I spend more than a half hour on comments, and a couple of hours total each week on the blog, then I may have to use a timer to cut myself off and get on with other work and living that is here for the doing.

The blog will not be used as a promotional space for Chax Press, but I may mention little quirks and pleasures of working at the press now and then, and possibly give an alert when a new book is out, like now, letting you know that we have just released Joe Amato’s Under Virga, which is nothing short of amazing. You’ll find more about that elsewhere on the Chax web site (chax.org).

Enough intro, on to a book . . .

(About notes on books: I am extremely fortunate that many people send me books and a few people send me manuscripts to read. I probably receive enough to keep notes on books going for a very long time. So this is not a plea for anyone to send me books, and if anyone does, there is no guarantee that I will write about them here; in fact in most cases I will not be able to write about them. That said, of course I love receiving books, & I even buy them when I can.)

SILVER STANDARD, by Justin Sirois

Justin Sirois’s Silver Standard (New Lights: Tempe/Baltimore) comes at the reader with teeth bared, or staples out (toothy side out). Ron Silliman, in his estimable blog (that I read regularly and learn a great deal from) thinks this is a bad thing, because it’s a book, and one wants to put books on shelves with other books on either side of them, and Silver Standard would tear up other books. I get that, and I even agree with the premise, usually. But I think SS is something else, an artist’s book whose outward-pointed staples perform a function in terms of the book’s meaning, and that’s all I need to accept them, and to accept the somewhat greater difficulty of encasing the book in something, or of putting it in a file folder. What I think I will do, though, is put it in some kind of envelope or cut a file folder down to its size, and go ahead and put it in my bookshelf, with the spine side as the open side of the folder or envelope, so I can see it there. For this book, that doesn’t seem too much to ask. Because this book is one of the best books of poetry I have read in some time, equal, this year, to the amazing Knot, by Stacy Doris (more on that one in another post), the long-awaited A Reading 18-20, by Beverly Dahlen (also in another post), Under Virga, by Joe Amato (I won’t post on that one because Chax Press published it) and Cornstarch Figurine, by Elizabeth Treadwell. If there are others this good, I have not read them yet.

Silver Standard’s 374 staples (I can’t see that declared anywhere in the book, but that’s what Silliman says, and I’m going to trust him rather than perform a recount) are not the only unusual physical characteristic of the book. The cover is not attached to the book, but it coheres by means of magnetic strips, which are just magnetic enough that one is not likely to lose the cover, but not so much as to exert a strong pull. These magnetic strips go from top to bottom on the inside cover of the book, possibly making a statement of their own, i.e. the pattern of staples forming one kind of net of entrapment, and the stripes another. The inside cover (gray) and its endsheets (a shade of brown resembling café au lait) provide the strong structure of the book, as they fold into the middle of the book and make a sewn concertina that encloses the two signatures that make up the book. I love this kind of structure, and it’s used perfectly here, as it’s a structure most appropriate when a book has too many pages to allow for saddle-stitch pamphlet binding, yet not enough pages, perhaps, for a perfect binding – although in this case a perfect binding would simply not be desired, for both aesthetic and marketing reasons. At the physical center of the book, which opens perfectly flat, these cover & endsheet papers are cut off to become tabs. On these tabs occur the one instance of letterpress printing in the book, in Hermann Zapf’s lovely Optima font. Printed very well, the top left reads “end::quiet colossus,” and the bottom right reads “begin::bell,” The “quiet colossus” is a sports super-arena pictured in lovely graphic in a foldout on the previous page which has much to do with the first work in the book, “silver standard (quiet colossus),” and the “bell” precedes a similar foldout page of a graphic of the interior of a bell that likewise will be the moving figure of the second work in the book, “silver standard (bell).” As I write this I wonder if the physical parenthetical enfolded presence may be a part of Sirois’s meaning in the book, too. At the very bottom of the pages, almost beyond the page but not quite, these titles appear as follows:



The careful enclosings, ends and beginnings, letterpress final or initial physicality, all play a role in our own sense of entrapment begun by the stapling. And not only are we entrapped, but everything is enclosed within everything else. The beginning of the first work links our own physicality to that of language, the oil industry, and the medical establishment. Tattoos mix with pharmacology, membrane sap, and neurons, all getting nowhere, or at least never beyond, “nothing more.”

    in the nose bleeds we shiver & mingle with membrane sap,
    I mean membrane sap like I mean plates of neurons chaffing
    their shoulders or just plain old nouns & platelets heckling
    yards below, herds of common folk call to petrochemical
    knights & pharmacological egos, juiced up & flexing to
    advance, a tattoo signs autographs & nothing more

Section one of the this “quiet colossus” ends

    the unless soil of the proverb erodes
    long before the first ball was thrown

so that “unless” and “long before” mix past and future in the present of eternal entropy.

One of the abiding tropes in “silver standard (quiet colossus)” is the river, but it might as well be a river of hell, where boats “saved the rotts & kittens,” toes key “the flow like webbed shifts as workers float by in gondola portfolios,” and sometimes it is a “yellow river, cautious about the local toxins.” It is never a river out, or to, some other place. It is, rather, where we are, otherwise imaged as “the quiet colossus” that “fills to capacity.” Fills to the point of overflowing, but it won’t, can’t, as our futures “are tied to policies policed by dicey monopolies.”

I’ve gone too long, perhaps, and haven’t touched on the sounded delights of this work, nor on part two, whose directive is entirely different, a working out of the bell’s “chime” which is a kind of all-enabling and all-destroying (but the irony here is that things can’t be destroyed, or they already are in a state of perpetual destruction) sound that Foucault would understand immediately as linked to his prisons, structures whose systems form the basis of societies, the basis of our lives, a basis the marketplace seamlessly commands us to accept.

    the chime should & the chime did. You forged the after
    effects from boric acid & dictionaries of chlorinated
    sample, chiseled away with professional tools until the
    pulsing center sent ultrasonic climaxes through our
    chairman’s gullet. The board is pleased & after test
    marketing these beeps

    they’re sure the consuming hordes will giggle & cheer when
    they hear what you’ve so artfully engineered

Silver Standard is devastating, and beautiful, and dangerous in the combination of those two qualities. The language is so well-crafted and conveyed that the book needs its staples, so you know that what you are about to enter is as dangerous as our contemporary world. Silliman notes a lack of pessimism and nastiness in the book. I disagree entirely, and I find those qualities all the more harrowing because of the flat tone, the flat line toward which we are all headed.

Read this book, please.