Valentine

Endearment x letterpress, January 2012
This poem first appeared in Fieralingue‘s 100,000 Poets for Change anthology, fall 2011.

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?

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Proposition and experiment

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.


Poetic objects

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.


Change

The endearment ending “peaches” was published a couple weeks back as part of the 100,000 Poets for Change anthology at Fieralingue. This is really a coincidence of timing—it happened to be ready, and the anthology call was there, a confluence which serves to foreground some things about the poem that I had formerly been muttering about to myself only.

For so long I had the best-words part of this endearment, but the best order for them eluded me. So a narrative emerged to help me as I revised. “Cease,” “ash heap” and “cheep” suggested a phoenix to me—burning up, then resurrection. “She paces, hep as cash” felt like the push against the feminine that I sometimes feel. The “she” in my mind was wearing tweed, and a little cap, possibly. Expecting trouble but brazen in the face of it. About to change. Maybe to embody the gender he really was. Maybe just to bust loose.

I said the story about resurrection and about gender to A. a while back and he did not buy it. It seemed too far-fetched to him. I was disappointed, but as I have mentioned before, this circumstance is okay—the phoenixical skeleton upon which I have draped the poem as I’ve worked on it is not an essential part of the finished poem. It is less skeleton than clothes-horse. I pat it on the rump, say thanks, and let it run off into the field where retired clothes-horses spend their days.

Because I don’t want that framework to determine an end-meaning for the poem. It can’t, realistically; it’s not part of the poem proper, and the markers that originally suggested it often change as I revise. “Cease” became “Cease speech”; that and the “cheeps” at the end may say something about language. A change of language. A good silence, then (a) great cheer.

On September 24, the day of 100,000 Poets for Change, I’ll hand out broadsides of the peaches endearment. If you would like one, you can let me know. I am for change.