THE BLOG @ TIR
March 13, 2012
Hannah Kimei is TIR's fiction editor and a first-year student in the Iowa Writers' Workshop.
I’ve been approaching the last few months as an exploration through a constellation of interests and experimentation in forms that will come together eventually… somehow. The larger nebulous cloud of this includes the narrative intersection between pictures and words. So, as a part of this investigation, I spent the better part of AWP weekend gathering pieces involved with visual and verbal literacy.
1. Picture books & children’s poetry
I attended panels discussing experimental literary forms for children. The idea comes from the way children use language themselves—as they learn, language is dexterous and changing before verbal descriptions are, in a way, harnessed by learned rules. As a part of the forthcoming anthology, Kindergarde: Avant-garde Poems, Plays, Stories & Songs for Children, Giovanni Singleton displayed and read her visual poem, “Caged Bird.”
The extent of collaboration between artists in multi-disciplinary narratives differs from various industries and presses. The process of creating a picture book involves a writer, editor, and illustrator, though most often the writer and illustrator do not communicate a shared artistic vision. Space, then, is an important factor in the creation of a picture book. As is shown here in Susan Marie Swanson and Beth Krommes’ The House in the Night, space within the text allows the illustration to carry its own narrative:
2. Book as Art Object
I didn’t realize until floating around the book fair how closely related visual art and literature already are to one another—with all the beautiful covers and delicate papers and glossy spreads inside magazines and journals. A few highlights were:
One of the editors explained how they integrated design with text to create a reading experience that includes the visual and tactile. Once a story was accepted, a team of editors and designers worked together to present the story in a visual format.
I was interested by the separation of roles in their process—editors choose the stories, and the designers have no say in the rejection or acceptance of a piece. The designers cannot change the narrative of the story, break apart or rearrange paragraphs, but likewise, the editors cannot ask the designers to change details of the visual components like the font, color, or layout, unless the actual reading of the text is obscured. This collaboration involves respecting different areas of expertise - meaning, different teams are more competent in different languages.
Based at Florida University, Small Craft Advisory Press works as a collaboration between writers and visual artists to make books as art objects. The sample images above are from Denise Bookwalter and Frank Giampietro’s “Spandrel.” Through the course of about a hundred pages, the words of Giampietro’s poetry breaks apart, then reforms into a new poem. Bookwalter, the director of the press and visual artist, explained that the first thing they had to teach writers was about the process of making. They taught writers about the physicality of materials and objects, while the writers taught them about words.
Siglio Press is a publisher from Los Angeles with an interest in printing books intersecting art and literature. I chatted with poet Amaranth Borsuk who showed me her book of poetry read with a web cam. As shown in the video, the reader opens the pages of the book to see the words on the screen.
I found a display in the Field Museum that used technology similar to the boxes in Amaranth’s book of poetry.
This is a photo of a screen. The card is projecting the Milkweed image—like magic!
I was particularly interested in the way the displays at the Field Museum evoked the different senses of the visual, verbal, and tactile to create a holistic educational experience. There was a balance in the way my brain moved around and in took information by looking at a display case, reading a small block of text, then touching fur or stones. It kept a sense of wonder as I wandered up and down each corridor.
And finally, with stories on the brain, I visited the Art Institute and looked at this photograph:
Then I read the description beside it and found its narrative somewhere between text and image:
March 7, 2012
Guest blogger Erica Mena is a poet, translator, printmaker, and the co-editor of Discoveries, TIR's forthcoming high school reader. The following is excerpted from her blog, Alluringly Short.
Well, it has been far far too long. I’ve been buried under my thesis (excerpts of which you can read on Words Without Borders here and here) which is inches away from being announce-ably forthcoming in full. So that’s exciting.
And wow, was AWP crazy this year. I wasn’t initially going to go, but then being only a few hours away driving, and getting to see all my conference-friends, and invited to a translator’s party, well…it was too good to resist. So I abandoned my responsibilities as a student and drove to Chicago and had a whirlwind three days. From dancing to early-90s hip-hop with Chad Post of Open Letter Books/Three Percent Blog and CJ Evans of the Center for the Art of Translation/Two Lines Journal (who has surprisingly awesome moves on the dance floor) to getting to hear Debra Di Blasi of Jaded Ibis Press talk about multi-modal literature, I had a wonderful conference experience.
But it was also really overwhelming. 10,000 writers, editors, academics, publishers, and spouses of the aforementioned all in the same space. I think there are a few things I’ve learned about conference attending over the last few years, and I’m going to crystallize them here.
1. Have a specific and limited agenda.
My first conference was ALTA in 2010, and I didn’t have any idea what it was going to be like. ALTA is a relatively small conference focused on literary translators, so a good intro to the conferencing experience. But I was still overwhelmed and confused, there were a lot of things I wanted to go to, and I also wanted to meet new people and hang out with friends, etc. It was hard to feel like I was getting what I wanted out of the experience. Then I went to MLA that same year, and talk about big and scary. But, I had a specific agenda at MLA: record the first five episodes of the Reading the World podcast. With that as a concrete agenda, I didn’t feel badly about missing several panels that looked potentially interesting, not going to all the parties and receptions I could have possibly gone to, and not seeing every single one of my friends who happened to be there. My first AWP was similar – I took responsibility for a table, and though I shared the sitting duties with other wonderful folks, I had a specific agenda. Be at the bookfair, hand out handmade broadsides. It was great because I just told people where to find me, and they came to me. And I got to meet a lot of new folks by sitting at the table. I went to only one panel, the last one of the conference, and thoroughly enjoyed it because I didn’t feel stressed about having missed other things happening. This AWP my agenda was to hang out with a specific friend and go to a specific party. It was accomplishable, and left time for a few other things like panels and wandering the bookfair, but in a limited and manageable way.
My takeaway: there will always be other conferences, so there’s no need to cram everything you might potentially do at the conference into this one. I get more out of what I’m doing when I’m not always thinking about the next thing, and that way I can let things unfold in a way that allows for great surprising things to happen, the real joy of conferences for me.
2. Warm up my voice.
Ok, this may just be me, but every conference I’ve been to in the past three years I’ve lost my voice entirely by the third day. It’s all the loud talking in the bookfair, in bars, in the lobby, just always having to shout over others. I apparently have weak vocal cords (thanks, dad) so I absolutely must remember to do vocal chord exercises in the weeks leading up to the conference. There’s nothing worse than wanting to have a conversation with someone and having to hope they can read your lips because your voice sounds like a frog with a sore throat is lodged between your vocal chords. Maybe I do an inordinate amount of talking, but there it is.
3. See the city, at least a little.
Some conferences have off-site events, or planned excursions, but I don’t always find those things as exciting as I do the things I just randomly discover by wandering. I’m a city-girl through and through and one of my favorite activities is discovering a new city by exploring and getting a little lost. I set aside a few hours on my second day to do this with a friend, and we wandered in the rain up Michigan Ave. to the Chicago Cultural Center where we discovered two amazing art exhibits, both totally free and open to the public, in an exquisite building. It was a nice interlude in all the conference madness, and a good reminder that there are amazing artistic things happening outside of AWP. Plus, the exhibit Morbid Curiosity was totally inspiring. A victorian-style curio collection of art that has to do with skulls and skeletons. Really a stunning exhibit.
4. Don’t just talk about yourself.
Seems sort of obvious, but a few friends have asked how I can hold conversations with complete strangers, and the answer is usually don’t talk about yourself. Ask questions. Be interested. Repeat. I see so many people at the bookfair at AWP especially just going up to tables and trying to talk about their own work, which from the other side of the table gets pretty blurry pretty fast. If you’re looking to make meaningful connections with publishers, editors and writers you admire, talk about things you have in common, not just your own interests and work. The way you find those things out are by asking good questions, and listening carefully. I had some amazing interactions at this bookfair with a few publishers I really admire. And though I do have some work I’m looking to place, I’m much more concerned with building genuine relationships with people I think are doing awesome and interesting things.
P.S. – The same is true for having a good twitter feed. It’s all about community-building.
5. Follow up right after the conference.
I got a bunch of cards, email addresses, and invitations to continue conversations after AWP. That’s what makes me excited about these conferences – the potential future relationships that I’m building. So it’s a good idea to do it right away. In the past, I’ve put it off feeling like I need to catch up on all the things I let lapse during my time at the conference. But now I’ve set aside the day after the conference ends for follow-up correspondance (and blogging, obviously). Otherwise it won’t get done.
Ok, so that’s it for me.
Erica Mena is a poet, translator and print designer, not necessarily in that order. She is currently a student in the MFA in Literary Translation at the University of Iowa. Her original poetry has appeared or is forthcoming with Vanitas, the Dos Passos Review, Pressed Wafer, Arrowsmith Press, and others. Her translations have appeared or are forthcoming with Words Without Borders, the Iowa Review, Kenyon Review, PEN America, Asymptote, Two Lines, and others.
March 6, 2012
Dave Morice—writer, visual artist, performance artist, educator, and former TIR contributor (his Poetry Comics appear on the covers of our 2007 issues) has just released Online Poetry Comics issue No. 21, "Pi & Pat"—that's "Pi" for Pi Day and "Pat" for St. Patrick's—which begins with a two-page "entry form" for the first ever Online Poetry Comics Contest.
Dave Morice's books include 60 Poetry Marathons, three anthologies of Poetry Comics, How To Make Poetry Comics, The Adventures of Dr. Alphabet: 104 Unusual Ways To Write Poetry in the Classroom & the Community, and The Great American Fortune Cookie Novel. His visual art projects include Rubber Stamp American Gothic and The Wooden Nickel Art Project.
37/1 (Spring 2007) Iowa Review cover
"Emily Dickinson's Poem 249" from Morice's Poetry Comics: An Animated Anthology
37/2 (Fall 2007)
"The Adventures of Whitman" from Morice's Poetry Comics: An Animated Anthology
37/3 (Winter 2007/8)
"Howl" from Morice's Poetry Comics: An Animated Anthology
February 26, 2012
Working Group Theatre's production of The Toymaker's War, playing through this afternoon at Iowa City's Riverside Theatre, is about writing and responsibility, the ineffable mix of trauma, journalism, and art that troubled much of the twentieth century and, as evidenced by the recent polemic over John d'Agata's work, still troubles us today.
The five-character, 90-minute play has twin plots, one in a Bosnian village in 1995, where all the adults have disappeared and only children are left, the other in present-day New York, where a journalist has just been subpoenaed by the UN War Crimes Tribunal as a witness to something that happened in that village nearly twenty years ago. The movement back and forth between the two historical moments, one in the midst of an unfolding catastrophe, the other looking back and trying to make sense of it, create multiple points of tension, the simplist on the level of plot--we want to discover what happened, but the others are more complex.
The character of Sylvie (played by Ottavia DeLuca) is young and idealistic, but also ambitiously single-minded about getting a story that will launch her career. She gets it and is successful and admired as a result, but the cost to her conscience is clear from the start. Her earnestnes makes her attractive. Her willingness to manipulate others, their stories, and her own, is more troubling. The shifts between her younger and more mature self, which coincide with the movement from one plot to the other, are handled quite efficiently on stage, with minimal set or costume changes, a fluidity that helps to see Sylvie as one person, even if she's rather split in two inside.
Sylvie's doubled quality is hinted at in the cultural, lingustic, and religious mixture that she highlights (French Catholic and American Jew) in her conversations with the Bosnian children. They too are mixed, Serb and Muslim, and the mixture of languages on stage creates an almost hopeful atmosphere of sharing for a short moment. But here too one wonders about Sylvie's motives. Is she just trying to win their trust in order to get her story, painting a version of herself that she thinks they will be more likely to find attractive and worthy of their trust?
Finally, there is the audience's involvement, our watching of a spectacle based on real-life trauma that is not really that old, and even if it was, would be no less difficult to understand and represent. Our complicity in watching. The playwright's complicity in telling this story. The players' complicity in playing it. This is a familiar problem to anyone who has thought about the literature of trauma, the poetry of WWI, holocaust fiction, atomic bomb novels, seige memoirs, and so many others. We do need to be reminded, and this play has a memorializing aspect to it, too: the reading of the names of those who died. It is, properly, Sylvie who pronounces them.
The Toymaker's War, written by Jennifer Fawcett and directed by Sean Christopher Lewis will be touring throughout the Midwest in the coming months. For more information, check out their website here.
February 25, 2012
He seems to have had a good father.