Here is the home of the Endearments, a group of poems that are made out of the sweet words people call the people and other creatures they love. This blog documents the process by which I make them. In it, I consider the procedure, the words, love and the lack of it, and whatever else the Endearments suggest. Preliminary findings indicated that these things might include vowels, flowers, disgust, awkward situations, various foods, cats, and the ocean. They have included vowels, punctuation, the scientific method, and disgust. And, more recently, cats.
For more on the procedures and constraints used to make the poems, go to process. To find some of the poems online, go to poems. For other projects and concerns, visit todointhenewyear.net. For ramblings on the finer points, read on.
Thanks to Catherine Daly for tagging me for the Next Big Thing! Here at last are my responses to this little questionnaire. (I think I will stop saying “at last”—everything takes time, and the more everything you do, the more time is taken up.)
So: here and now, on the first or the second day of spring, depending how you count, are my responses. The book that has occupied most of this year for me is first. But there’s news of the endearments too! (See parentheses.)
I am tagging Meryl DePasquale, whom I am very happy to have met recently, who is a fine companion in poetic pursuits, and whose next big thing promises to be awesome!
(Each Cheek a Cake: Endearments)
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I was planning a train trip. I was imagining pleasant hours in the dining car, imagining I’d want to write, and possibly to play with some poetic form or other. But I knew I wouldn’t lug a giant book along just in case I got the notion to write a rondelet. So I made a small one.
It also came from my love of practical genres: signage, instructions, guides. And of small books, like the one of Edward Lear’s poetry and drawings that I bought on a trip to London in seventh grade.
(From the endearments, a group of poems made via an anagrammatic procedure and for which this very blog provides occasional annotations.)
What genre does your book fall under?
Instructional manual, artist book, pocket book.
(Chapbook. Of poems.)
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
What is it in me—besides my inability to remember very many actors’ names—that resists this question? A form is like an actor, a good one: it can become what the writer wishes it to, can become a whole lot of different characters. And yet the feeling we get from various actors is so particular that to assign real actors to forms could be limiting. Or it could be the basis for a really nice set of trading cards.
(Because I am also working on a poet’s play made of endearments, in which each one becomes a character, I hesitate to assign actor-actors to them either, for fear that the associations will color the characters as I make them up. I do, however, have fun imagining friends and acquaintances playing the parts. Also, the poems themselves are like action figures, more than other poems I’ve written. Having made them, I collect them. Which sounds narcissistic, but so is every collection, in a way.)
What is the
one sentence sentence-fragment synopsis of your book?
A guide to poetic forms that is pleasing to the eye and travels well
(Poems made from the sweet words people call one another)
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I made the first version of A Pocket Book of Forms in 2009. It was a one-page minibook at the time, the kind where you fold it all up and make a slit in one spot and suddenly the sheet of paper comes alive as a book. There were fewer forms in it then, because I included only the ones I most wanted to remember. It took a week or two of writing and thinking between doing other things. I made many iterations before the current version, which is now a pamphlet-stitched book, a little bigger than a minibook. I’ve added more forms. And I made revisions in response to the helpful poets who read it for me—Lesley Wheeler, Annie Finch, and Carolyn Beard Whitlow.
(I’ve been writing endearments since 2009 or so also, but the manuscript came together in a relatively short amount of time last fall. Time to put these action figures in a box. Time to get some sleeves for these baseball cards.)
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I needed it, and it did not appear to exist.
(When I made the first of the endearments, I was broken-hearted and angry and, being those things, I needed to play. Now, although my feelings are different, I still want and need to play.)
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It’s made by hand and a pleasing thing to hold. There’s a standard edition and a fancy one; both are pleasing, the fancy one is just fancier. I think it’s important to have beautiful objects around, especially in a stressful environment (grad school, for instance)—and even better when those objects are also purposeful. I hope and imagine that someone will give a copy of this book to someone else who is a student of poetry. I would be thrilled if a teacher of poetry adopted it for a writing course.
It is truly pocket-sized—it has been tested on a variety of pockets and fits in all but the most strange and decorative ones. (Although, from the look of them, it is too big to fit in most of Nicelle Davis’s poetry pockets.)
Also, it is a guide to craft of a very particular nature. The small size places a useful limit on the contents. I have plans for other books in the series—A Pocket Book of Procedures, A Pocket Book of Meters.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I designed the book and printed it on a Vandercook no. 1 proof press, with help and advice from lots of good people, particularly Rory Sparks of Em Space. The printing was done at Penland School of Crafts during a winter print residency (fabulous program!) and a follow-up visit earlier this year. I plan to finish the binding, and sew the slipcases for the fancy edition, in April. Information and updates here.
(Each Cheek a Cake seeks a publisher.)
Make up a question you think is pressing in way of poetry today.
How do screened devices change the way we read poetry? How do they change how we write it? These questions are worth answering now, when we are in a transitional space, before we forget what writing is like in a world without those devices.
(What can poetry do for love?)
Here are Next Big Thing posts from Lesley Wheeler and Kate Schapira—and soon to come, I hear, is a giant roundup of posts at Delirious Hem, where at the moment you can read the third installment of a nice roundtable on women publishers.
Anagramming “precious,” a word rich in vowels and thus rich, I have begun noticing almost-possible words: if only I had one more c, I could have succor; if an h, ichor. If only an n, so many words—prune, coin. Despite the addition of repeated or new letters, these words keep the virtue, which a set of bona fide anagrammed words has, of consistent color or flavor. They are tangential to the project; I offer them here in case anyone is in need, for instance, of matchy-matchy repetends for a sestina.
osprey (I knew there was a bird in there—)
In which I ask myself what color each letter is, in order of the alphabet and with a side excursion into musical notes
Letters have had colors for me for a long time. When I’m reading, they recede and the meaning of the words takes up most of the room. But when I’m thinking of words or letters specifically, the colors float there. Some are less vivid than others. Sometimes to see a letter’s color I need to see it next to other letters. Some change depending on what other letters they’re next to.
A result of this synesthesia is that certain of the endearments have colors. The originating word, in my mind, has a palette that infuses, transforms, as it appears in the words that make the poem. Thus “dreamboat” is grass green (d), pinky red (a), bright blue (e), all dulled down a bit by the dark black-brown of the r and the muddy purple of the m. “Sweetheart” has a similar blue-red thing going, deepened by the blue of the w and cheered by the vague but warm-colored h.
Where do these colors come from? I think the A comes from a Fisher-Price magnet alphabet that we had on our fridge when I was growing up. That bright pinky red. But of the others’ provenance I am less sure, because that alphabet does not continue to match up. Oliver Sacks could probably tell me.
Below, a record of what colors the letters have in my mind as of this September. The problem being, of course, that saying one version of a thing can make it more true. Thus I intend to avoid rereading this record. I like shift.
In the first nanopoem mentioned earlier, I wanted the singular: dart-eyed mare. But astute readers will notice that this creates a missing letter: the s makes 13 letters and completes the anagram. I don’t think such a choice would be true to this variety of nanopoem, as I have defined it here. These little byproducts of the endearments are found things. One that had had words excised from it to make it sound better wouldn’t feel sound. In addition, I had already used mare in another anagram: stare eddy mare.
Although they crop up less often in sentences and thus make for fewer satisfactory nanopoems, I’ve become more lenient about using letters as words with recent endearments. (This may partly explain why it took hours to finish anagramming my dearest dear.)
But what is a word, for my purposes? All letters get the definition “a speech counterpart of orthographic [insert letter here],” and, oddly, all letters but j get “a graphic representation of this letter,” but both of these definitions seem too meta to count. Letter as letter: no thank you. I am already subjecting the alphabet to enough strain.
I thought the shape test would prove useful: If Webster’s says the letter is used to illustrate a shape, that seems legit. But as it turns out, Webster’s thinks that all letters can be used to illustrate a shape. Even q. Perhaps it’s a matter of degrees of legitimacy: If a letter is a note in the Western scale, for instance, or if it has some other meaning in addition to being a shape, that’s better. So: x, in; o, in; h, q, use sparingly, if at all.
I prefer to treat letters with a bit more caution than I do particles. I permit repetition of them between two or more anagrams. But I don’t approach the anagram as a subtractive exercise (what can I make now that that pesky second d is out of the way?). A philosophical difference rather than an empirical one, perhaps, but important.
No upper limit for the repetition of letters like this has occurred to me yet, but it may. It’s like the rose garden at the writer’s residency I’ve been at this week: No one told us not to pick the roses. So, furtively and at dusk, I went out with my scissors. Knowing that the absence of a rule depends in part on inconspicuousness, or, to put it more cooperatively, on appropriate use, I picked a small bunch of roses rather than wreaths of them. Once I had them inside, they nonetheless seemed extravagant. Likewise with the ds and rs. My dearest dear yielded quite a bouquet of anagrams, even without squeezing every possible r-less permutation from it. (From semiprecious stones to flowers—you’d think it was Valentine’s Day. But that, my friends, has come and gone.)
The last evening I went out, two white horses were in the corral next to the rose garden. Dart-eyed? Soft-eyed. They came up to the fence, greeted me, discovered I had nothing interesting, and went back to grazing.
One more question: Why does it feel less like trespass if you bring your own scissors?
A well-known pleasure of the anagram is that sometimes it makes sense: from the mixing up emerges a phrase, a bit of syntax, that is pleasing in its own right. Like finding an amethyst in a streambed. (Which I did, as a kid—and then I found out that the rock-finding guy who was visiting us had planted it in the stream in front of me. He thought I should be rewarded for my effort. But it felt like a false reward to me.)
No one plants the especially crystalline anagram. You find them fair and square. My dearest dear, which I’m working on, has offered up a few good ones. Some are pretty:
Some of them express fundamental facets of the human condition:
Am tardy. See red.
I’ve done this: imagined and taken on the anger others might feel about a failure or fault of mine. It is no fun for anybody. But it happens. One more, kind of Shakespearean, and possibly an answer to the previous one:
Stay mere dread.
Should I call these things micropoems? They are smaller than what others are calling micropoetry right now (they’re many fewer than 140 characters, to use one measure). I wanted to say nano, but are they small enough to cross the blood-brain barrier? Besides, everything is nano of late.
But my present sample, I am realizing, is perhaps skewed—my dearest dear has 13 letters, which is long(ish) for an endearment. This changes things. Most endearments are too short for the descriptor micro.
So nano it is.
When, in January, I had the chance to typeset for the first time, I made the above. I felt giddy all day. I wrote, afterward: I love every letter of the alphabet! In fact, however, the endearment is a kind of lipogram: Many letters are excluded. On account of this, I came very close to running out of several letters. At the end, one V was left in the typecase.
Certain of the letters were not printing as well as others. So, under the advice of Frank Brannon, who is amazing and who perceived just what amount of makeready I was ready to make, I made little cushions for them, squares of newsprint, which I slid under the relevant piece of type. The “r” in “endearment” needed a lift, for instance. This and many more adjustments.
The screen does not do justice to the excitement of feeling those printed letters under my fingertips. Printing enlivens. Printing, be my valentine?
I. Many people will not, of their own accord, look at a poem.
II. Millions of people will, of their own accord, spend lots and lots of time looking at photographs of cats.
III. Therefore, earlier this year, I concluded that the best strategy for increasing the number of viewers for poems would be to print them on top of photographs of cats.
IV. I happen to like looking at both poems and cats.
V. So this is, for me, a win-win situation.
VI. Fortunately, my own cat is a patient model, and (if I am to be believed) quite photogenic.
VII. The aforementioned cat is Tisko Tansi, small hero.
VII. Thus I present to you (albeit in digital rather than physical form) an Endearments broadside, featuring a poem that originally appeared in BlazeVOX spring 2011.
VIII. If you want to share a copy of this image, please ask first. If you want a real copy, you can ask about that too.