[Production Notes] Caravan by Hifsa Asharf

Today a poem went live in Folded Word’s #WrittenWordWednesday series that was written by a poet who lives in Pakistan. Since PayPal accounts are restricted there (thus no way to pay her royalty), I was asked to make a pamphlet for her that would be thin and light enough to mail several copies in a letter-sized envelope.

The first step was to figure out the construction method. If it was bound with a cardstock cover, then the dimensions would have to align perfectly so the binding wouldn’t crink in the big rollers the post office uses in sorting. Also with cardstock, only one copy could be sent per envelope rather than the required 4 copies. In studying “Caravan”, I realized I wanted readers to travel along with Hifsa Asharf on her search for homeland. To do that, a standard bi-fold signature simply would not work. Instead, I opted for a waterfall fold pamphlet made from a single sheet of paper without any need for stitching or gluing.

animation of waterfall fold
Waterfall Fold: working out the size and functionality using scrap paper from my Poetry Out Loud judges packet.

Once I had the mechanics figured out, including which “pages” would need to be set upside down vs. right side up in my InDesign file, it was time to design the content. I knew I wanted this pamphlet containing Hifsa’s tanka to summon the spirit of the ’60s chapbook revival — when marginalized poets huddled in basements around discarded mimeograph machines producing collections of their poetry for underground distribution. What better way to do this than by typing out the poem on my salvaged manual Corona? I photographed the ink-on-paper stanzas with my DSLR and imported them into my file.

Next came the issue of the cover. As you can see above, I originally wanted to do something hand-lettered. However when I finished with the zentangle border on graph paper (trying to emulate some patterns I’d seen on Pakistani pottery and tile), I didn’t like how busy the lettering was. After photographing, I covered the lettering with a white box in Photoshop and replaced it with a typewritten version of the title.

finished cover of Caravan by Hifsa Asharf
The finished pamphlet – a touch of warmth on a snowy day.
I was able to print two pamphlets per sheet of Caslon Ivory Parchment paper, double-sided on my laser printer (note: use the “bond paper” setting on your laser printer when doing this). I used a bone folder to get a crisp fold on the stiffer paper, which will help keep them flat in the mail and *cross fingers* ensure they actually arrive. I found that folding first and then cutting the pairs apart with my guillotine worked best. After I got the first pair of pamphlets done they looked a little bland, so I lightly tinted the zentangle border with watercolor pencil. So…what do you think?

A Writer in Every Port

I’m not sure why I can’t stay put — why I always need to be planning the next trip to [insert destination here]. I adore my house on wooded acres, tucked into the hills above a tourist destination. Maybe I caught my grandad’s wanderlust that he caught from his dad’s work on the railroad. Maybe it’s genetics, stemming from the same urge that drove my ancestors to trade one continent for another. But it’s more likely a by-product of moving: having so many loved-ones in such a long string of scattered places. Social media is fine for keeping up with the facts of someone, but it’s no replacement for real-time bonding with someone over a shared meal. Even as a child, my parents made sure we traveled on what little discretionary funds we had to maintain the relationships that were important…relationships I would later rely on after my parents left for Africa.

So it’s no wonder that as an adult I followed their example. And once the internet created the ability to meet and collaborate with strangers-who-become-friends, my string of scattered people became a web that now spans oceans. Since 2009, I’ve made a point of meeting up with writer-friends whenever family-travel brings me into close proximity. I’ve shared pints with Mel Bosworth, toured the Louvre with Dorothee Lang, dined in Beacon Hill with Tim Bridwell, took Yorkshire tea with Samantha Priestley…and New York City? Rose Auslander, Casey Tingle, Elizabeth J. Coleman, Paco Márquez… These meet-ups play a critical role in a key component of my writing life: creative kinship.

Dinner at an Irish pub with Ben Moeller-Gaa in St. Louis

Creative kinship is what sparked the idea for my calligraphic treatment of Ben Moeller-Gaa’s haiku. His guidance on what is and isn’t appropriate for English-language haiku crossed-pollinated with my guidance on what is and isn’t reader-friendly book design. Our geeky discussions yielded a unique approach to a frequently mistreated poetic form. My practice of that approach over the course of four haiku poets’ collections has honed my calligraphic skills while giving me wabi-sabi instincts. Now I can’t write haiku to save my life, but I have enough awareness of their spirit to help another haiku/haibun poet, dt.haase, develop two works-in-progress. The only thing that could have beat dining with dt. one night and Ben the next on my latest train journey would have been for the three of us to dine together! Maybe someday…

Eating the world’s best pizza (Giordano’s) with dt.haase in Chicagoland

I’m sure it’s possible to write in seclusion and only share work with faceless entities, but I can’t imagine it’s much fun. Working for a press out of my home, writing at a desk in my home — the internet makes these possible. Having to drive an hour+ to engage with poets in real life, however, sometimes leaves me isolated. The creative kinships I’ve developed over the years have opened up collaborations that have taught me skills I never would have gained on my own. And it’s the endorphins that come from these intense, trusting partnerships that carry me through the long, dark January nights when the roads are too icy to attend Writers Night Out…or Down Cellar Poets…or Boston Bookbuilders…

If you have grown thanks to creative kinships, please share in the comments. How did you meet? Have you ever met in real life? What works of art exist in the world now because of your creative kinships?

Subconscious Drive

As I wrapped up the final book project for Folded Word’s 2012 list, I realized that my subconscious might be driving our paperback acquisitions. The last word of Guy Cranswick’s Nine Avenues (to be released by New Year’s Eve) is home. As is the last word of Mel Bosworth’s Freight (2011). Add to that the prevalence of homesickness and the redefinition of home that takes place in Smitha Murthy and Dorothee Lang’s Worlds Apart (2012) along with the analysis of childhood environs in Jessie Carty’s Paper House (2010) and you have the concept of home being central to every non-anthology paperback that Folded Word has published to-date.

Now I am a scientist by training (MS Biology 1995), so I understand that correlation does NOT equal causation. My search, whether conscious or subconscious, is not the only reasonable explanation for the prevalence of home in my print selections. Alternatives might be:

  • Home is a central concept for most humans, therefore it plays a key role in most manuscripts.
  • Being a competent writer requires a degree of “square peggedness” because the societal tension created by not fitting in allows a person to more objectively observe the world and its inhabitants, thereby creating a yearning to find a place to fit in (i.e. social/emotional home). The resultant observations form the basis of the conflicts that make written work interesting.
  • The appearance of home in these books is mere coincidence. Random. A fractal-like artifact of our chaotic submissions queue.
  • These books haven’t actually been about home at all, I just projected that onto them. [Any thoughts, my long-suffering authors?]

I’m not sure how aggressively to explore this. It’s difficult to design any kind of scientific analysis since there can be a 2-3 year lag between the time a submission is accepted and the book actually makes it into print. But I think it would be really interesting if, after the relocation issue is settled and I’m home (where/whatever that ends up being), Folded never publishes a home-centric book again.

I would love to hear alternate theories or support/rebuttal of the theories above. I’d also love to know if you’ve recently read any books that deal with the concept of home, or even if you are writing one yourself. The comments section below is ready and waiting for your input:-)

kaleidescope view of FREIGHT’s final word

One Thing Leads to Another

I’ve been hearing The Fixx in my head a lot lately because since spring, one thing has led to another and another and another. The combined effect has turned into a crazy backlog in the Folded Word publication calendar as well as a record total of 900 unanswered emails (and counting). The chain, you ask?

record rainfall>>killer allergies>>recurring illness>>finding allergist>>prescribed changes to the house>>moving/thinning furniture & figurines>>painting>>temporary storage of overflow in my office

Even though I’ve thrown out 4 huge bags of trash, filled my trunk with items for Goodwill, and culled 10 boxes of books to be re-distributed, the overflow in my office looks like this:

Could you work in this?

Somehow I’ve got to dig out my guillotine so that I can launch Ben Nardolilli’s chapbook. I also need to prep for the talk I’m giving at Surprise Valley Writers Conference. Anyone have a spare shovel?