Monday, December 26, 2011

Change the Default Settings

Though I never formally studied visual art, I'm an amateur painter (and have made a few bucks selling pieces), and was fortunate enough in my college years to study the music industry, marketing, pre-internet/digital publishing, and work for journals like Ninth Letter, which was a combined effort on the part of the Creative Writing department and Art & Design at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.  The longer I write poems, and the longer I work in the business of formatting poems for publication--currently doing all the interior layout design for Cooper Dillon Books--the more I think about how poems occupy physical space. From there, I wonder why we poets don't include spacial consideration in composing our work.

A painter, before beginning a piece, considers the size of the canvas that will hold the work; a woodworker will measure a space for an intended piece of furniture; a choreographer will consider practice and performance space, and adapt as necessary.  Artists of these disciplines understand and consider space, but we writers seem to open our word processing programs, and do out work in 8.5 x 11, then save the file in that format, and send to journals or calls for book submissions, and keep them in 8.5 x 11, knowing full well that the poem will not be appearing in that size.  We know this, and we think of our lines, spaces, letters and words so carefully in a space that simply isn't realistic real estate that will be available when we are actually able to share the work with the community.

Two quick stories:

* When I was in a workshop, one of my peers brought in a poem that was set in landscape, and in an exceptionally blocky font--something like Bank Gothic.  It was visually interesting, and, as it happens, really served to help the poem's pacing.  Without even giving it a read-around, the professor disregarded the work, and demanded that all poems appear in standard 8.5 x 11 portrait, and use a standard serif font like Times or Garamond. Nevermind that, pedagogically, the professor alienated that particular writer, and a decent portion of the class, effectively turning the safe intimacy of the workshop into a toxic environment. What he or she also did was completely shut down even the potential to educate us on the role of typography in our work, and how it feeds and engages the language, thus changing the experience of the poem for readers. Or, perhaps because of the aggressive shut-down and moratorium on perceived "standards," it moved some of us to think about formatting in a whole new light, if only with the initial intent to rebel against such a rigid requirement.

* Nate Pritts has a magnificent poem called "Endless Summer," which appears in The Wonderfull Yeare.  He was meticulous in formatting the lines of this poem, so when we had to make the move to a book format (we do 5.5 x 8.5 in the Cooper Dillon shop), there was a decision to make.  To preserve the spacing, we could have reduced the font size to fit in the 5.5 margin; this would have made it near impossible to comfortably read, and would have also undermined the original effort and care in conceiving the spacing in the first place.  The other alternative, which won out, was to swivel the poems so they were landscaped. Not only did this preserve the original visual elements that Pritts intended, it also added a little something different to the book.  At some point he asked, "Can we really do that?" and I replied, "If D.A. Powell can do it for an entire book, we can do it for 6 pages!"

Like I said, I was fortunate to learn about certain elements of business during my education in poetry, but I can't help but feel that I missed out on certain essential skills: book-making was not available, nor was any sort of survey in typography or text design.  Therefore, I've had to make efforts to acquire these skills on my own time.  While there might be comfort in perceived standards, as a community, I think we should embrace using all of the tools at our fingertips to be more artful in our craft.

I write with "invisibles" showing, so I can see design markers as I write. Just this morning, I changed the default settings of my page from 8.5 v 11 to 5.5 x 8.5.  It seems reasonable that when the poems appear in a print journal, or finally in a finished book, they'll appear in either that size, or maybe in 6 x 9. Rather than go through headaches of trying to make the conversation after the fact, or to, perhaps, be a bit more considerate to whomever decided that they can stand behind my poems, I think it's the right move.  We don't have to use the default, just because that's how it opens up.  I know that not every writer is tech-savy, and easily able to go in and mess with settings and preferences, but in this day and age, it behooves us to extend our skills, and not only think of language, but how that language is presented.

Perhaps it's a short-coming of writing programs that there isn't more emphasis on learning about space, but I have faith in my community to be at least a little autodidactic.  People get paid to know these technical elements, but that doesn't mean we can learn them, especially if it means enriching our artistic efforts.

Monday, October 24, 2011

More thoughts on what we're doing

Monday, September 26, 2011

Interview at Fringe!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Remember where you're from

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Animals is people too.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Post-AWP bits

Hey hey!

Cooper Dillon had a great time at AWP DC, though we wish the people form Chicago and other could places could have made it sooner/at all. Maybe they'll start considering that winter cities in winter months don't always work so good.

Meanwhile, the good people at Rose Metal Press came by, and they talked to me about my previously posted thoughts on the NEA, public money, etc. We have some differences of opinion, but I think we agreed that we both love Gary L. McDowell, so that was a place of peace.

It got me thinking--I can't really fault the really small operations who are getting $5K, or something like that. Nobody's drawing a salary from that, and the project truly is about making a contribution to the audience, and the money they're getting is just a little something to help out.

However, the big places who claim to be "small," and are taking in 25K from contest fees alone, not to mention book sales that are huge...well, you know my thoughts on that.

Cooper Dillon Books happens to be a member of CLMP. As a result, I got an email from Steph Opitz, the Membership Director, and there are some great recordings of panels form AWP. I'm listening particular to this one, which is The Art of Nonprofit Publishing with publishers from Bellevue, Coffee House, Graywolf, Four Way, and others. It's educational. I'm fascinated by the fact that once an organization becomes a nonprofit, it's owned by the public, and held, "in trust for the public good," as Allan Kornblum says. Apparently a board can dismiss an editor/publisher, even if they've established the press and nurtured it from the start.

I thought you'd might be interested in these talks, if you don't get the email with the links. If you want, email me, and I can forward the message to you.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Coming to AWP DC, 2011

Visit Bloof & No Tell at Table D7
or Cooper Dillon at B10
during the AWP Bookfair.

Every book purchased and/or 2$ gets you another ticket!
Random drawing to be held Saturday, February 5.*

*Entries accepted via bookfair tables only, but you need not be present at time of drawing to win.
Prizes will be shipped (to single winning address) after the conference. Stop by for more info
or to gaze upon the goods. We have no idea if this raffle is legal, so don't tell any cops!


From Cooper Dillon Books:

Wonderfull Yeare by Nate Pritts
Haunts by Laura Cherry
Pretty, Rooster by Clay Matthews
The Devastation by Jill Alexander Essbaum
They Speak of Fruit by Gary L. McDowell

from No Tell Books:

Shy Green Fields by Hugh Behm-Steinberg
Glass Is Really a Liquid by Bruce Covey
Elapsing Speedway Organism by Bruce Covey
Harlot by Jill Alexander Essbaum
Never Cry Woof by Shafer Hall
God Damsel by Reb Livingston
The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel - Second Floor edited by Reb Livingston & Molly Arden
The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel edited by Reb Livingston & Molly Arden
Wanton Textiles by Reb Livingston & Ravi Shankar
Cadaver Dogs by Rebecca Loudon
Navigate, Amelia Earhart's Letters Home by Rebecca Loudon
The Attention Lesson by PF Potvin
The Myth of the Simple Machines by Laurel Snyder

From Bloof Books:

The Mystery of the Hidden Driveway by Jennifer L. Knox
Poetry! Poetry! Poetry! by Peter Davis
Good Morning Romantics by Shanna Compton
Warsaw Bikini by Sandra Simonds
For Girls (& Others) by Shanna Compton
Drunk by Noon by Jennifer L. Knox
My Zorba by Danielle Pafunda
A Gringo Like Me by Jennifer L. Knox
Down Spooky by Shanna Compton

Plus awesome swag!

NEA Talk

Charles Jensen's posted a list of some literary organizations who took NEA money in 2010 over at his blog. We have a difference of opinion, and that's okay. It's worth checking out.

The list was kind of eye opening. To learn that Small Press Distribution, Inc took in $60,000 was impressive. I was under the impression they made their money from taking a large chunk (35% - 50%) of the money from the sale, and giving whatever's left back to the press, but only after over 6 months. In most cases, SPD is getting more money from the book than the press who discovered and produced the book. I've heard of numerous presses who were forced to fold or go on "hiatus" because, though sales were good, they didn't get paid in time to do another press run, and lost all the steam from their initial push of announcements, reviews, and advertising.

He also posted an open letter to the arts community, and C. Dale Young over at his blog posted a bit of it. It's a good letter. In it, he asks "Why aren't you more actively engaged in supporting federal, state, and local funding for the arts?" My answer is that I do. Most of us in the community do--we buy the books these presses publish. Some who are lucky enough to teach poetry assign books from these presses, and the press sells an additional 20 books in one shot. Maybe the schools where they teach bring in that writer, and the book store orders a few more copies. It's a great way to spread the word about a book.

Jenson writes in the open letter that "While federal or state funding should never be considered a crutch or an essential income stream, it is important." But I can't help but think that these grants and these funds, and the donations that are given above and beyond what they've charged for the books they publish, are being used as crutches, and they have become essential to the presses and journals. It just doesn't seem like they're making money from selling what they're making, and, like I've said, that's a flaw in operations.

Some of these presses are fantastic--like Ugly Duckling & BOA & Rose Metal (who published The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry, edited by Cooper Dillon's own Gary McDowell). They're putting out great work, and I encourage you to buy books from them!

I don't know a single writer or artist who will only make art if they're going to get a grant for it, or win an award from an organization funded by a grant. If the intention is to make art to cater to these organizations, that's not a healthy way to go about it. I like to think that art comes from a stronger necessity on the part of the individual to create something from themselves, and put some sort of beauty into the world.

There are far more artists who create without the help of anyone. They buy their own paint and canvas, and they lick their own stamps to send out work, and they travel long distances to do readings in bookstores in hopes of selling a few copies of their books, and hoping someone will have a couch and a beer for them when they show up.

I don't know the answer, so I'll ask: is the real innovative work--whether it be visual or literary--really coming from the recipients of these funds, or is it coming from the people making the art simply because it comes out of them?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

More Money for Nothing

I really like Alice James Books. They've published Christina Davis' Fourth a Raven, Brian Turner's collections, as well as B.H. Fairchild's books, and The Far Mosque by Kazim Ali (one of my favorite books!). They have a lot of other notable authors with great titles. You can get them by visiting their website. A number of these books spend time on the Poetry Foundations' Best Seller list. You can buy them, or you could submit your own manuscript to their contest with a $28 reading fee, and if you put an envelope with $2.50 of postage on it, you can get one of these books for yourself--and you should, by all means, be familiar with the books on a press you send your own work to, and support...through buying the books.

Alice James Books is also asking for your donations on a facebook page. I paid for each one of their books I've gotten over the years, and I'm glad I did. I could have asked for a desk copy of Here, Bullet, but I felt like they deserved the money. They won't be getting a donation from me...because I already gave them money, and happily received what they were selling.

I was talking to Dan Hegarty, The Jedi Drummer, about this. He takes donations, too. If you head over to his website, and enjoy the video performance he's put together, you can give him some money. Whether you do or not, you get the entertainment for free.

It seems a number of people in the larger poetry community also listen to NPR, and everyone loves a good week-long fundraiser campaign. Maybe you tough through it, or maybe you turn away for the week, but you can enjoy that service (news, classical, jazz, funny shows, interesting interviews) for free if you want. You can also donate.

The point is this: if a company produces something you want, and you pay for it, that's that. The transaction is over. You have the thing you wanted, and you enjoy it; the business has the money they set as the price, and they continue to make things they hope you'll want. When a poetry press is selling books, then asking for donations, what they're saying is, "Give us money and we'll give you this book, and if you like the book, you can give us more money which we'll then use to make more books which hopefully you'll give us more money for later."

If a press--or any business or organization--has the mission to make a product, and sell that product, but they can't afford to stay in business by making those products and selling them, there is a problem with their business model. There is too much money going out, and not enough coming in. The solution is to either A) charge more money for your product (which customers don't like), or B) find a way to cut costs so you can continue to provide your product at a reasonable price.

Again, if a press has a book you want to read, please purchase it. If you can, do so from the publisher's site, so they don't get a huge cut taken by the distributor. If they are hosting an event, get down there, and pay the cover. Maybe bring a few friends. Order a beverage, and tip your waitress. If you thumb through the journal at the newsstand, get a subscription.

Just don't let them think they deserve something for nothing.

Same goes for you: don't steal. It ain't right.

Monday, January 3, 2011

I'm Confused

So, as you might be aware, I run a small press out of San Diego. We currently have 5 titles, and we do okay for a brand-new endeavor. Our books are in print, available, and our authors seem to like what we're doing with the art they've created. Those who have provided art for covers also seem to really love what we've done with their images.

Cooper Dillon Books is not raking in the big bucks, but we're resolved in our intention to stand behind the poems we feel maintain the values which make poems timeless.

That being said, why is Copper Canyon Press, "the preeminent independent publisher of poetry" asking for donations? Why are they asking for a "gift" of $50 on their facebook page, and telling you that you'll get a copy of Jean Valentine's book in exchange, and also talking about how they "rel[y] on the good will of hundreds of donors to keep [their] books in print"?

Shouldn't the sale of books keep their books in print?

It reminds me of something Gandhi said in Gandhi: An Autobiography. The Story of My Experiments with Truth, on page 198 of the Beacon Press Edition, he writes:

"A public institution means an institution conducted with the approval, and from the funds, of the public. When such an institution ceases to have public support, it forfeits its right to exist. Institutions maintained on permanent funds are often found to ignore public opinion, and are frequently responsible for acts contrary to it...The institution that fails to win public support has no right to exist as such. The subscriptions that an institution annually receives are a test of its popularity and the honesty of its management; and I am of the opinion that every institution should submit to that test."

Translated from the original Gujarati by Mahadev Desai.

If a book publisher is asking for money for something other than a book, what should that mean to us? I've never walked into my barbershop and heard them asking me for money because they give other people good haircuts, without offering to cut my own head. Walking into a bar, the tender never asks me to put money down unless they're pouring a drink that's worth what everyone else is paying for that drink.

Pay for your books. If you like Cooper Dillon's publications, purchase them--but only pay the price that we ask anyone else to pay. We don't need your extra, earned, money to keep our lights on, or to keep food in the fridge. If you want to give us more money--if you share our perception of what great poems are--feel free to order more books. We'll happily pack them up, and put a few things you didn't even know we had into the package for you.

Copper Canyon has 3 of the 30 books on the Poetry Foundation: Best Sellers list:

The Shadow of Sirius (paperback) by W. S. Merwin
One With Others by C. D. Wright
Migration: New & Selected Poems (paperback) by W. S. Merwin

That means people are buying lots of books from that press. Do they really need donations?

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