Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added)
is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.
--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Happy Birthday from the Hills


Shiny! Look at the hardware...
I put money where other people's mouths are.
Little brother on his sister's birthday, age 13.

I hate to bump Meri Wells from the top spot before today is finished (go see!) but just felt like saying a big, echoing, tunnel-mad Happy Birthday! to my third and youngest child. Fourteen years ago on this day a little runt and I were both trying our best to die from toxemia. But we were hurled blessedly back to life. Today he is a long, skinny drink of water who is mad about sports and Scout camping, does well in school, volunteers a lot, and is the only thurifer hereabouts. Happy Birthday! And have a grand summer here and at the three kinds of camp you like!

And that makes me as old as them thar hills, I reckon, but them thar hills are covered with balsam and laurel and rife with seams of gold and gems and dwarves with pickaxes and places where stones are set up because of fiery visitations from the otherworld and lively nooks and crannies with storytellers and poets and wild mountain prophets reciting no matter who does or doesn't listen...


Aw! Mr. Skinny is April 2011 Student of the Month.
      

Not sure if that's making 4' 4" on the high jump or messing up 4' 6."
He is a maniac for wrestling, but loves football and track.
The idea of just jumping unaided over a bar or hurdling or wrestling
or football used to be fairly alien to me.
I'm a hill!
 

Wales Album: visiting Meri Wells, part two

What is that--precious jar of unguent,
ambrosia gone soft and dangerous,
clay cradling beads of gold to soothe the sea
when the storms rise and the selkies toss?

Perhaps it is a gift for my youngest child,
who is 14 today. Happy birthday!

Pensive, dreaming of landscapes we do not know.

Gallery frolic and caw.

He held my hand. Was both fearsome and sweet.


Riot of forms... the house gallery.

When I was Alice,
I fell into the well of his eye.
Took me years to climb back up
and crawl out into the light.

Caught, looking up almost in surprise.
Find a pierced stone and look through it.
You might find out what he sees.

Another glimpse of Meri Wells and Clive Hicks-Jenkins,
with Peter Wakelin on the grass.
This time Clive is smiling.
And I did not say, "Wensleydale."
I promise you that.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The House of Words (no. 30): Nic Sebastian on nanopress

Signs of nanopress editing!

Nic Sebastian hails from Arlington, Virginia and travels widely. Her first collection, Forever Will End On Thursday (http://bit.ly/dFWcg6) was edited by Jill Alexander Essbaum and published by Lordly Dish Nanopress -- a poetry press with a twist (http://bit.ly/dZQNEU). Her work has appeared in Valparaiso Poetry Review, Anti-, MiPOesias, Salt River Review, Mannequin Envy, Avatar Review and elsewhere. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale (http://verylikeawhale.wordpress.com/). She is building an audio anthology of her readings of contemporary poetry at Whale Sound (http://whalesound.wordpress.com/) and is the founder of Voice Alpha (http://voicealpha.wordpress.com/), a group blog focused on the art of reading poetry aloud for an audience.


* * *

Lordly Dish Nanopress:
the firstborn child

Nic Sebastian has written at length about the "nanopress model," which she conceives of as an outlet for "a poet with at least several dozen individual poems already published by a range of reputable poetry journals," who has "compiled a first collection manuscript in which you have confidence." This poet is one who may have been discouraged by the cost and gambling mentality of poetry contests, who may have set his or her manuscript to some of the presses who still read unsolicited manuscripts without fee without finding an acceptance. She presents the nanopress alternative as one giving :that key element of credibility a poetry press brings to a manuscript – the outside editor’s judgment and gravitas, which both affirm and help hone the poet’s vision."
The nanopress model partners two poets in similar situations, establishing a tiny press and asking each to carefully edit and scrutinize the other's manuscript."The nanopress is a single-publication, purpose-formed poetry press that brings together, on a one-time basis, an independent editor’s judgment and gravitas and a poet’s manuscript. The combination effectively by-passes both the poetry-contest gamble and the dwindling opportunities offered by existing poetry presses, while still applying credible ‘quality control’ measures to the published work."

Whether you find this idea exciting--perhaps you like the freedom of this model, or perhaps you are one of those unpublished poets--or whether you like it not at all--perhaps you find it dangerous to the work of small presses, say, or a little too close to self-publishing--it has given birth to its first books. Here is Nic Sebastian on nanopress . . .
* * *

I've been getting some nice emails on the nanopress project from poets who are in the same place I was when the idea first occurred to me. Here is a representative one from Sheila Squillante (reproduced with her permission):
I was pretty much knocked over when I read your explanation of why you created this nanopress model for your book (which I am enjoying reading, by the way!). I could have written the exact words. I'm sure many of us could.

I'm in that place where I feel like I need to decide to go left or right at the fork in the road. I've invested so much time, money, energy and identity in the traditional publishing model, but how much longer can I do that? How much longer do I want to?

Anyway, I'm rambling and I'm sure you've heard these questions before. I'm wondering if you felt like you had the same "fork in the road" choice to make (clumsy metaphor, I know), and if so, would you mind saying if there was some defining moment (or something) that helped you make it? I'm finding your blog notes on the process really interesting and enlightening, too.

This is a very exciting and inspiring project and I thank you for putting it out into the world. Congratulations!
Hi Sheila! Thanks for writing and for the kind words. Yes, I definitely had a "fork in the road" moment. You can read about it in a) look for a publisher or b) self-publish or c) go the third way - a blog post from way back in July 2008, which is what started this whole thing. I commend the comments thread to you, in particular comments by the naysayers who said the idea would never work. Don't ever be swayed by those kind of comments if you are trying to execute an idea you believe in. (Love you all anyway, guys!).

I've been thinking a lot about this topic for a long time now, but most intensively over the last couple of weeks, since Forever Will End On Thursday was launched under the nanopress model and the various conversations generated therefrom.

I've been distilling my thinking, both as a publisher and as a poet. In the post I just linked to, I talked about the 'publisher's cycle of need' - driven by significant financial imperatives - and the need for poets to break out of it, basically because poets don't share those financial imperatives.

What poet today (the rare Mary Oliver or Billy Collins aside), seriously expects to pay any bills through the proceeds from poetry sales? I mean, really? Or even wants to make money from their poems? Most poets I know just want their poems to be read. An objective diametrically at odds with the publisher's cycle of need. That cycle demands tight control of poems, which a) must be offered in one format (print) and b) must be paid for.

In the old days, the contract was worth it for the poet because of the marketing and promoting power the publisher brought to the equation. The publisher's reputation, their knowledge of and ability to leverage and exploit the market place was hugely important to the poet. But today, with the flattening of the means of production and distribution - the internet, print on demand publishing, e-book publishing, which empower the poet, the ever-shrinking budgets and resources which continually diminish the publisher's promotion power - the equation has been turned on its head.

You are your chief marketer and promoter, whether you get a contract with a publisher or not. That's today's reality for today's poet. So why not take control of all aspects of of your cycle of production?

And I repeat what I have said elsewhere - this is not about dissing hard-working small and indie presses, who are often selfless, work long hours for nothing and are deeply passionate in their commitment to poetry. It is not the publishers' fault that the system is the way it is. Nor is it the poets'. It just is. And has been. All I'm saying is that realities and dynamics have changed significantly around both poet and publisher and we owe it to poetry to absorb, assess and act on those changes.

Everyone will have their own idea about how to proceed in today's environment. My recommendations for the poet who wants their poems read (as opposed to wanting to make money from book sales -- you really do have to choose between these two objectives!) are:

a) Find a publisher who will publish your complete collection in multiple forms, at least some of which are free.

or

b) Become your own publisher, with an outside editor, under the nanopress model and publish your complete collection in multiple forms, at least some of which are free.

Free? Isn't that a dirty word? you ask.

Generally, maybe, but not for poets and poetry. Poets are not put off by "free" poetry, in the way that most of us are put off by and instinctively suspicious of anything free. Why is it free? It must be sub-standard, somehow off and unwanted. That's regular commerce-speak. It doesn't apply to poetry. We are used to seeing enormous quantities of fine poetry free for the taking across the internet. The number of reputable, discerning poetry journals that offer content received free from poets for free is huge and growing by leaps and bounds. Yes, poets look for some sign of quality control for content (who is the editor??), but we all know that dollar signs are no indicator of quality for poetry.

For me personally, and I know for many others, poetry is definitely priceless. Civilizations through the ages have recognized that poetry nourishes the human spirit and enterprise in a way few other things do, and certainly nothing that is for sale. Queens, kings and chieftains employed bards and poets just for that purpose. Sure, our system in the US (I think they do somewhat better in Europe) has forgotten this and undervalues the poet's skills and contributions, no longer subsidizes them in any material way. But does that mean that the poet should forget too and undervalue too, and try to force poetry into the channels of commerce where it never has (and never will) sit comfortably? Selling your skill as a detective story writer or a romance novelist or a how-to manual writer is one thing. Selling your skill as a poet is quite another. In my view.

But why offer your poetry free? you ask.

Fact: The difference between "free" or "for sale" is a big difference in readership. It just is. For the past several days, I've been sharing statistics from my collection, Forever Will End On Thursday, which was launched 12 days ago on March 21 under the multiple-format-some-free model. This is where we are 12 days after launch (some context - it's amazingly hard to get info about the general size of initial print runs for poetry, but it seems that in the US an initial run of 2,000 - unlikely to sell out - is standard for university presses; while small presses are more likely to have an initial run of 100 -200 or so):

free e-book downloads - 41

free PDF downloads - 24

print sales - 9

free MP3 downloads - 4

CD sales - 2

Sure, this is just one sample, and a random one at that. And it's word-of-mouth, internet promotion only - I haven't been on the road all hours (or at all) drumming up business through live readings. And who knows if obtaining a copy equals actually reading it or listening to it? Or how many more sales would have been made if *no* free copies were offered? (I suspect not many more.)

In any event, total number of copies out there is 80. Total number of print copies sold is 9. Book sales account for less than 12% of total potential reader/listenership.

Really. Get your collection published in multiple formats, some of which are free. Let's get some more statistics loaded up here.

Spread the word, Sheila: if you're a poet looking for an editor under the nanopress model, send me your bio and publication credits at nic_sebastian at hotmail dot com. If I think you might be a poet some editor out there might be proud to help publish, I'll list you on this page at the nanopress site.

Maybe all together we can make the nanopress model work for more poets and get some new cycles and models going for poetry.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Wales Album: tiny portals

Close by was a little table with the words DRINK ME
written on the table in gold letters.
At Castell Powis, near Welshpool, Powys, Wales.

A tiny, tiny house belonging to little Alis
and her family at Ceinws--
but who could live in a house so small?

Clive Hicks Jenkins
invites me to climb up and pass through a portal
between two worlds--
one of them inhabited by strange beings.
At Meri Wells's house.

"'One side of what? The other side of what?'
thought Alice to herself."
In this case, it is one side of the portal.

The other side of the portal.

Dave Bonta, as curious as Alice (or Alis)
at a tiny portal in the "amorphous shrubbery."
Castell Powis.

Look at that Bonta-tongue!
(Click for a closer inspection...)
Here I think Dave must be a Green Man,
vomiting the vegetative world,
as the Green Man does so often in medieval church carvings.

Dave snug in the portal, content between worlds.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Wales Album: visiting Meri Wells, part one

Wandering, I find pottery guardians in the garden.
Am I in Wales?  Elsewhere, I think.

A glimpse of the ceramics studio and sheep field beyond,
with a table topped with an old piece of slate
that Meri traded for some concrete blocks.

A headless and quartered creature
pinned to the boards!

Meri Wells's studio, with a view of field and mountain.

Here I am rambling the yard--
earth alive with little scenes,
cunning nooks and crannies and surprises.


Table offerings...

Guard of the boundary between realms?
Warrior shepherd who bars the way?

A peep at the seventeenth-century house.
The thick flagstones inside are laid
directly on the ground, and sometimes
shift when the field mice tunnel underneath.

Maen hir of clay, pierced for looking
into another world.
Monolith among the bluebells.

Tea in the cool Welsh afternoon.
Meri Wells and Clive Hicks Jenkins,
with Peter Wakelin taking his ease on the grass.



Friday, May 27, 2011

"The Throne of Psyche" at The Green Toad Bookstore: a memorable night


Last night we had precisely two dozen (counted by those bean-counters, my sons) people turn out to listen to poetry from The Throne of Psyche at the Green Toad despite the vacation (leftover snow day linked to Memorial Day weekend) beginning that afternoon and despite tornado warnings for our region. And I had a grand time! Lots of laughter and clapping and finger snapping and good questions and requests always make a reader happy...

Below you can see the other two people who turned out--Mrs. Toad of the bookstore a..k.a. K(C?)athy and me, wearing heels and so taller than somebody for once... I misled Mrs. Toad when she asked by saying that my name was pronounced "Yeo" not "You," and so she introduced me as "Marly Yeo," which meant that I gave her a big hug and we started with much laughter. My great-grandfather may not have been able to spell, but the family can still pronounce the name, even if we can't spell it!

Novelist Peg Leon brought me in style in a car with no little mountain forest mice (I fear the saga of the Toyoto Corolla invaded by mice is not over, alas), and afterward I went out to dinner with Peg, our painter friend Ashley Cooper (featured elsewhere on the blog), and Tina-whose-last-name-I-do-not-know, a painter employed by Golden Paints in Earlville. Interestingly, Clive Hicks Jenkins (who I just visited in Wales) uses Golden Paints. Tiny world, isn't it?

The world cracked open as we dashed from the restaurant in company with a downpour and thunderstorms. We scuttled to Ashley's car in pairs, huddled under flattened boxes, and Peg and I sat in children's car seats on the way to her car. Lights went out in Cooperstown and elsewhere about the time we left Oneonta, and in the pitch of dark we had views of wondrous lightning, scribbled across the firmament. Once I saw a great round ball of lightning, tethered to a wisp of bright fiber. We were stopped by fire trucks and a downed tree and power lines for a while and glimpsed another tree downed as we passed under our one traffic light, now gone dark. 

Peg developed an elaborate theory, which has now gone out of my head, about how all this cataclysmic activity was extraordinarily good for the book. (Feel free to prove her right by rushing out to obtain a copy for all your acquaintances and any passers-by.)

At home, the living room was ablaze with candles... The house did not burn down, despite children playing with fire, and about six or seven this morning the lights flashed on. All is well.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The House of Words (no. 29), Dave Bonta and the internet, 9

Banner, Via Negativa
MY: So now we have billions of web pages ... It's easy for readers to feel lost; it's easy for writers starting out to feel swamped or invisible. How do you think a writer who wants to make his or her way in an e-world can find a place? How does such a person find the readers who will feel kindred or be interested?
DB: Well, for people who are withdrawn or misanthropic, I don't know what to suggest. But if you're an interesting writer and you're at least a little outgoing, it doesn't take too long to find a community of bloggers to link to and comment on. I fear a lot of people start blogs these days on the advice of editors or agents who neglect to tell them that the most important trait of a good blogger is generosity. If you want people to read you, you have to read them. You need to link to other bloggers and other websites, whether in your posts or in your sidebar (ideally both) — that's how the web grows. I actually border on being too withdrawn to be an effective blogger; I often link to a blog post I like in lieu of leaving a comment. But the thing about comments is, other people besides the blogger see them too, and if your comment is interesting, will click through to check out your own site. I've seen bloggers build up huge readerships due to an ability to leave witty comments on high-traffic blogs.
Banner, Morning Porch
Image from Clive Hicks Jenkins.

Every writer should have some kind of website — they're crazy not to. Whether it should be a blog, and if so, what kind of blog, depends on the writer. There's nothing wrong with maintaining an essentially static site with just occasional updates about readings or new publications. But finding and staying connected to readers and kindred spirits online involves a pretty big commitment in time and energy, which can severely cut into one's writing time. If you're all about the Romantic ideal of the lone writer building an edifice of unique, inspired work, you're best advised to avoid all contact with blogs and blogging to avoid contagion.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"In Extremis" from THE THRONE OF PSYCHE: the Digby video

A reminder:
I am reading from The Throne of Psyche--

7 p.m. May 26, Thursday
The Green Toad Bookstore
198 Main, Oneonta NY

This does have something to do with the poem...
Well, it's another wacky morning at the Miller-Youmans residence. Already racked up seventy facebook suggestions--they're zooming up fast, all witty or silly or now-and-then helpful--on how to get the teeny forest mice (mountain mice from Cullowhee) out of my Toyota Corolla. Yes, you people think this is funny, don't you! I parked in my mother's garage while I was in Wales, and she had a Subaru with filters full of soon-to-be-expensive mouse nests about the same time, alas. Many colorful and occasionally sensible suggestions: mothballs, mint, sonic devices, cats, more cats, new car, sticky traps, vacuuming, etc. I can say that neither traps nor Bounce dryer sheets work!

I am pleased to announce that the wonderful Paul Digby has made another movie for The Throne of Psyche. Here is "In Extremis":  http://youtu.be/nz7-C2NT3k8. I love the way Paul just takes a recording of a poem and runs with it, dreaming his own version of my dream. In fact, I love the whole laziness of the thing for me: I toss him a poem, and poof! there's a movie. Not quite that fast, though... I really like the soundtrack here, and the way he used the fan and the Bible, ruffling slightly as though breathing.

Here's the youtube description of the poem:  "This poem is about a visionary experience that flooded in during a harrowing passage in my life. The timing was a bit difficult; I had given birth to a third child and then immediately moved to South Carolina. Not long after we arrived, our eldest, a little boy of 8, was struck with meningitis. The short blank verse poem begins at a point where he had been immobile for a week: still and unresponsive, and was about to be moved from St. Francis Children's Hospital to a larger hospital with an Infectious Diseases specialist. Soundtrack and film by the ever-generous Paul Digby."

Copies of The Throne of Psyche are available in hardcover or paperback from your local independent bookstore or by order from Mercer University Press, or by Barnes and Noble and Amazon and all the usual suspects.

That picture above was Benjamin, the little boy
in the poem, before his senior prom. Here he is
on stage in a Chekov play at college, 2011.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

At Cullowhee, The Throne of Psyche, Green Toad reading

A reading from The Throne of Psyche
(Mercer University Press)
7:00 p.m. Thursday May 26
The Green Toad Bookstore
198 Main St., Oneonta NY

* * *

Not pink shell azalea but rhododendron...
pink, though!
Picture by my mother, Cullowhee, May 2011.

This poem is one that was requested by a number of people at my recent reading at City Lights in Sylva, North Carolina. I went to high school in Cullowhee, and my mother still lives there. I remember writing this poem outside her house, seated by a wild pink shell azalea, its mound of branches in full bloom, with a few blossoms already dangling by their stames like intrepid ballerinas. In two directions I could see the blue ranges of the mountains. It was one of those moments where the soul appears to stream out of the body and hang, weightless and joyful, in the air.

The boy, the egg--that was a dim memory of a Russian poem that I have now forgotten, all but the boy emerging from the trees with the egg in his hand. My children were present, not close to me but wandering with my mother on the mountain-top.

There is a popular bumper sticker  in North Carolina that reads, If God is not a Tar Heel, why is the sky Carolina blue? That sort of sentiment is one I often heard expressed by elderly people when I was a child--that the mountains are a place closer to God. That thread is here as well. And I did go to school with teens named Prince and Queen.  Rich mountain names...

The poem first appeared on Michael Burch's ambitious site, The Hypertexts.

* * *

At Cullowhee


The Princess trees--the great seed-scattering weeds--
Erect their plum pagodas once again,
And I am rooted on the mountain's crest
As surely as are trillium, pink-shell, phlox
And uvularia--I lift the blades
To tuck the dyed eggs underneath and dream
Of a boy at the forest's edge who brought his gift,
A single egg with deep persimmon dye.
The peepers and the sweet metallic calls
Of birds are telling me--bell note, echo,
Quiver of air, trill, arrow of song--
About this place where names are Prince and Queen
And old folks say God wanders on the ridge.
How else could sky be such a heavenly blue?
Trailing children, watching the Easter hunt,
I now let go of all I ever wished.
I sniff the April ramps and ginger leaves,
I breathe the violets and sweet-smelling clay,
Seeing that my life has come to nothing.
How little I have made that's worth the keep!
My soul, much rinsed, is threadbare, fine as lawn.
And yet, like a child, I still draw near
The sky and rising mists, the hills that are
The mighty ramparts of a mercy seat.

The House of Words (no. 28), Dave Bonta and the internet, 8 (qarrtsiluni)

Anne Morrison Smyth
in qarrtsiluni

MY: How and why did you and Beth Adams begin qarrtsiluni? What has surprised you along the way?

DB: Beth and I were part of a group of creative writers and artists, all bloggers, who came together to launch qarrtsiluni in August 2005 as a group-writing/publishing exercise. We took turns as editors, two and three at a time, of what were at first monthly periods of writing and creating artwork in response to a theme. The rest of the group ran out of steam by the following June, so Beth and I decided to take it over as managing editors. It gradually turned into a regular magazine, though we've never gone so far as to issue periodic issue-dumps, as other online magazines do, preferring instead to remain bloggish, with new material at least five times a week, and comments activated for every post. To us, this is the best way to get and maintain readers online. I remain surprised by how many other online journals act as paperish as possible, and how many seemingly go out of their way to avoid being indexed by search engines. On a more positive note, I'm also often surprised and touched by how grateful writers are that we've published them — even some very well-established writers, with many books under their belt. I feel at times as if Beth and I are perpetrating an elaborate hoax.

This has always been a sacred place, a place of healing; the chapel and the Saints are quite recent emanations of this. If you walk west from the chapel, past some prehistoric standing stones, into a wooded ravine, you’ll come to the holy well. In mediaeval times it was dedicated to St Tujan, and has been a sacred place probably since the bronze age; Gallo-Roman remains have certainly been found there. People throw the age-old votive offerings of coins into the well. There is a stone cross and other stone artefacts from who know where set up here. A fallen tree covered in ivy forms an arch in front of it. On the ivy stems someone has inscribed the words ‘Cécile tu nous manques’ — ‘Cécile we miss you.’
Who knows who Cecile is or was and why she is missed, but someone brought their sadness, their angoisse to this particular place of power and left it as an offering in these words, a poignant counterpoint to the marble plaques of gratitude.
--Lucy Kempton


* * *
I am one of those writers who has enjoyed appearing in qarrtsiluni. What I like most about it is the responses of readers. I've been pleased and sometimes startled by the quantity and good-heartedness of replies to work. And by the sheer numbers Dave reports as reader views.
              Long may it wave! --Marly

Monday, May 23, 2011

The House of Words (no. 27), Dave Bonta and the internet, 7


Dave's "porcupine tree,"
a ridgetop chestnut

MY: Moreover because you have no reluctance to give your blog "first publication rights" for poems or photographs or short films, you always have interesting and varied material. In fact, you have none of the need to tally up publications that so many poets do — so many being tied to colleges and universities. You appear to have a remarkable degree of freedom from ordinary ways of doing things. Related to this is your mode of making books. Nothing ever has to be finished; no order of poems, no table of contents is immutable. Everything can be put back in the pot and stirred. I’m wondering what other strengths and pleasures come out of this attitude of yours, this freedom from the usual modes.

DB: It's true that not having to worry about promotion and tenure credits allows me to do all kinds of things I might not do otherwise. It doesn't free me altogether from the desire to also make print collections, which is easier than ever in the age of Lulu, Createspace, Blurb, etc. But I do, as you suggest, feel a bit of apprehension about putting words into print, knowing that once a paper copy is out there, it can't be changed. Generations of poets have been taught to be absolute perfectionists and struggle against every word, because we all know how mortifying it is to have to look at a poem in print that we've long since revised. But the reality is that even still, poets routinely rework old material for volumes of selected or collected poems. Being mainly self-published and mainly online does allow for a more fluid conception of one's work, but I'm not sure it's a radical change. A more important kind of freedom, I think, is the freedom I extend to others, via a Creative Commons license, to reprint or even modify my work as long as they credit me. The attendant loosening of ego-attachment to the products of my writing has done wonders for my mental health, and has probably made me a better writer.

Bonta, chainsaw grooves

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Poems at "The Flea"

Special Mermaid Tavern issue
in honor of "The Flea"
on its second natal day--
two years of blood and song.

I have three poems in the Mermaid Tavern issue of "The Flea," two of them written expressly for this roistering, carousing celebration! They also fit into my The Book of the Red King sequence: "Song of the Fisher-Folk"; "Fool's Toast to the Red King"; and "The Mermaid Tavern."

The Flea
Special Mermaid Issue

The House of Words (no. 26): Being in cahoots with other artists

More Bontasaurus wisdom soon! Today's post reflects on yesterday's theme of collaboration and how it has surprised me along the way...

* * *

One thing that the web has brought me is friendship with artists in my and other fields and collaboration with them. If you are lucky, certain friendships can even be inspiring. Here are a few examples of how I have mixed up the media with friends!

Makoto Fujimura, opening of the "Charis" exhibition
Photo from facebook.
My first extended collaboration project was with Makoto Fujimura. He issued a challenge on the web for artists to write essays about the ten commandments, filtered through the lens of a chosen medium. He also leaned on me a bit! Having a pronounced tendency to do something a little different from what I am asked to do, I wrote not an essay but a story for Mako in nine parts (two commandments being combined.) He made a series of paintings in response to the story, and then we did several joint talks-and-readings-with-tiny-show at a Yale Divinity School conference. We’ve talked about making the project into a little book some day. And some day I am going to go visit his International Arts Movement writers--I couldn't make the last date suggested, but it will happen some day.

Clive Hicks Jenkins in his studio at Ty Isaf
 with Jack a.k.a Jacket Koppel.
"Green George" is one the easel.
Photo by Peter Telfer, from Clive's website.

Another collaborator of mine has been Clive Hicks-Jenkins. I met him after writing about him on the web some years ago. I’ve written prose and poetry for two books in his honor, he has made covers and division pages for my past and upcoming books, and we have generally inspired each other. Right now I am also planning to do some collaboration with his friend Graham Ward. And I just had the fun of visiting Clive in Wales and doing all sorts of things--a poetry reading, attending his restrospective exhibition (more on that later), meeting artists and writers and makers and producers of film.
Here Paul is at home in Ohio.
He looks happy in his work, doesn't he?
Photo pilfered from facebook--
no doubt taken by Lynn Digby.

Paul Digby is my most recent major collaborator. Paul is a multi-talented man has composed music and made films for four of my poems so far, and he has more in the works. He loves doing these; I love what he does and feel lucky. His generosity is something that means a great deal to me and benefits my books.

Makoto Fujimura grew up in the U. S. and Japan and lives in Chelsea, New York City. I knew him through a 3-year national working group sponsored by Yale Divinity School under Miroslav Volf. Clive Hicks-Jenkins lives in the Ystwyth Valley of Wales. I met him in the aether. Paul Digby is from the UK and now lives in Ohio (with Lynn Digby, a painter who I knew before I knew via correspondence before I met Paul. Some day perhaps I'll meet both in what is called "the real world.") But they all talk with me right in my own little writing room because of the wonder of the internet. For an artist living in an isolated and often weather-bound place like upstate New York, such communication is wonderful.

This very series is an example of collaboration with people from all over. I asked a few of my friends, and a few more people popped up and volunteered. I salute them all! Thank you. We all gain from playing together. We gain "larger life" from good company, just as we gain it from reading the best books or dwelling on beautiful works of visual art--another kind of good company.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Reading from "The Throne of Psyche" at The Green Toad Bookstore, Oneonta, May 26, 7 p.m.

Marly not at the Green Toad but in Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2009

House of Words (no. 25): Dave Bonta and the internet, 6

Dave Bonta, "Brush Mountain under ice,"
February 2011
MY: One thing I notice about the online part of what publishers call "presence" — particularly through Facebook and sometimes through my blog — is that I meet people who want to collaborate. I don't always have the time for this, but I have met wonderful artists in various fields this way. They have given me far more than I can ever give back, except through the simple fact of going on and doing work that they like. You are involved in a number of ongoing collaborations. How did they begin, and how do they make you more fruitful or help (imp the wing!) your own creativity?


DB: They definitely help. They come about naturally enough, because if you have a daily writing habit, you're always looking for material. For example, when the nature blogger and photographer Jennifer Schlick approached me last month about writing poems in response to a series of 16 macro photographs of spring wildflowers, I jumped at the opportunity. Ekphrastic poems are fun to write, and I love wildflowers. The fact that the poems will be featured in an artists book associated with an exhibition in upstate New York, and possibly in a print-on-demand book if we can figure out how to do that — that's gravy, but it wasn't my primary incentive.

I like these eyes in a beech bole...
Dave Bonta, "Beech grotesquerie," February 2010

Similarly, Luisa A. Igloria's now daily responses to my Morning Porch posts began almost by accident, on Facebook, where I automatically repost Morning Porch content. A very busy writer and academic, she has just enough time (and brilliance) to write a poem in her spare time each day, but not enough time to chill on her front porch as I do and watch the world go by until a poetic subject turns up. So she gets a daily prompt and a new audience, and I get stellar content to re-post to Via Negativa, plus the opportunity to watch a master poet at work. Her energy feeds off my indolence. I love it.

There are just so many opportunities for collaboration now — I don't see how any serious writer can fail to be excited by that. I think poets need to move away from the mentality of always writing for the next, single-author book, or if that's too much of a stretch, at least stop thinking about collections of poetry solely in terms of print.