One thing about computers: They make it easy to come up with a plethora of options, and harder to take the time to think about a single option’s merit. I always begin writing an endearment by hand. Despite this, on typing up the initial draft, I often end up with several nearly identical electronic iterations, which begin to blend together on the screen. I print them out, but it can still be hard to tell what’s what.
Thus the trusty scissors, which I have just employed for cinnamon. The poem has started to shape itself into phrases, but their relation to one another has been eluding me. I printed the poem out and cut it into word- and phrase-sized slips of paper. A few rearrangings, a hand-written recording of the result, and suddenly a new option leapt out. Not a change to make the poem perfect, but one I hadn’t seen on the screen.
Was it the slips of paper? Was it the clean, blank page, with title at the top and final word at the bottom? Was it the writing of a slantwise draft in the margin, which is now the only draft on that page? Or was it just that essential ingredient of the endearments (and of most poems), time?
Speaking of time, cinnamon is from a very other one. I encountered it in a post by Katherine Connor Martin on the Oxford Dictionaries blog, about endearments that have fallen from use. Cinnamon is Chaucer-era, and it seems a fine one to bring back. Next in line: turtle (although I am taking the liberty of using the full phrase turtle dove).
And speaking of computers, and vexation, a project I’ve been working on for a while is just released. Forces of Attention, a series of objects designed to help people mediate their relationships with their computers, debuts with series 1: THE WORLD IS NOT IN HERE. You can get a copy at todointhenewyear.net. If you do, and if you have thoughts about it, I’d like very much to know.
When, in January, I had the chance to set type 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.
The endearments lend themselves particularly to the world of things. At least, I have found it easier to work with them visually than with other poems of late. I’ve printed them on top of old photographs, and on the pages of old natural-history textbooks. And I’ve printed them on top of newer images too. These objects, even the digitally created ones, are of the physical world rather than the virtual one. This is important. In an essay for Fringe, “On Poetic Objects and Poetic Economies,” I consider the advantages and challenges of bringing poems into the visual world:
If I could think of the poems as objects, I said to a friend, a visual artist, this past spring, they would take up as much room as objects do in my mind, and then I would need fewer things in my life. Fewer artifacts waiting to become art.
After exploring cheap art, poems on cards, broadsides, I allow myself a bit of exhortation on these objects’ behalf:
After it’s had the chance to live online a while, affix your poem to a page. One you can give out, or barter for snacks or a drink, or sell for a few bucks. . . . And if you are one of the fine folks who are doing something like this already, for your own work or for that of others, in your living room or in a letterpress studio, I applaud you. Don’t stop. . . .
Make it. Allow it to exist in time, and try again. And try new things, and get better.
It’s easier to get away with such imperatives if you’ve followed your own advice. In the case of poetic objects, though, the physical evidence necessarily has a smaller audience than the html-encoded call to action. So I am offering a partial fix. Shortly I’ll post the digital iteration of a broadside I made of the “beloved” endearment. I printed it on pale grey, textured paper, and I handed it out at the 2011 West Chester University poetry conference. Now it will live here too, but it is better in person.