Monday, December 9, 2013

Reflections of Enigma the poetry of Melanie Whithaus: Working in Projects

Available HERE
One of the editors of Lenswork magazine, Brooks Jensen, explains in issue #107 (July-August 2013) “Problems with a pile of prints.” Jensen explains that photographs, piles of them, present a problem simply because there seems not to be a “finished” project. Dipping further, it's simply this, a vast amount of pieces and no real whole. The idea of a project, according to this editor, leads to artistic growth. I suppose the idea of a stack of photographs is simply this: there is a stack that a viewer must wade through with no real direction. Jensen goes on to suggest that the photographer complete a “book” of photographs. Book, here is loosely assigned names such as Blurb book, a folio or a chapbook. And elegantly stated: “The photographer who finishes a book is not the same photographer who started it—.” (P 10)

I do not disagree with Brooks Jensen. I have been delighted to read the editor's comments in this beautiful bimonthly photography magazine. I think that Lenswork is a wonderful commentary on the creative process. And the photographers they feature have been challenged by the magazine's high standards. And incidentally, the photographers they feature have to think in terms of a project because each contributor provides a finished portfolio of work.

I don't think the creative process is very different between photographers and poets. It's a funny comparison, I know. But let's consider, for a moment, the notion of an individual poem and an individual photograph. Either can be a work of absolute brilliance, beauty and a complete-sovereign work all onto itself. However, can you really know the artist by just one small piece?

As many of you know, I am the editor of Umbrella Factory Magazine. We feature fiction, nonfiction, poetry and art. We do not often get much art, (or photography for that matter) which is unfortunate. Poetry, however, is the bulk of our submissions. There are so many poetry submissions that it oftentimes takes three of us to wade through the work. I can comfortably say that we publish about 1% of what we read. On one hand, it's fierce competition for poets. I think this is probably true with all literary magazines. There are just more poets than magazines. I daresay there are probably more poets than readers of poetry. This does not make poetry any less important. On the other hand, poets who carefully read, and follow the submission guidelines and artfully craft or tailor their work to an individual editor/magazine's tastes have a higher rate of success in publication. At Umbrella Factory Magazine we require 3-5 poems in our submission guidelines. You can image a poet who sends us one poem gets a quick rejection. We believe, as I'm sure all literary magazines believe, you cannot know a poet from one poem alone. 

Can you know a poet from 3-5 poems?

The limitation of 3-5 poems in literary magazines is simply due to layout, size and aesthetic. It makes for a more diverse and readable magazine issue to have three poets at four poems each than one poet with 12 poems. This is the magazine aspect to it. And I think we do get acquainted with a poet with this small amount of work. This is not where the poet should end. A publication of 3-5 poems in a literary magazine is not the end all product a poet should produce. Rather, this should be the launch pad for a larger piece of work, or a project.

Going back to Brooks Jensen's suggestion: a Blurb book, a folio or a chapbook how does this fall into the world of poetry? Seems pretty simple to me. In the earlier statement, let's pull out the title of photographer and insert poet. “The poet who finishes a book is not the same poet who started it—perhaps one of the best reasons to produce something like a Blurb book, a folio, or a chapbook.” A chapbook, a brief primer.
Definition: a small book containing ballads, poems, tales, or tracts. History: A chapbook is a pocket-sized booklet. The term chap-book was formalized by bibliophiles of the 19th century, as a variety of ephemera (disposable printed material), popular or folk literature. Many different kinds of literature have been made into chapbooks, such as pamphlets, political and religious tracts, nursery rhymes, poetry, folk tales, children's literature and almanacs. When illustrations are included in chapbooks, they are considered popular prints. The term is derived from chapmen, chap coming from the Old English céap meaning "deal, barter, business", a variety of peddler, who circulated such literature as part of their stock. The term is also in use for present-day publications, usually poetry, of up to about 40 pages, ranging from low-cost productions to expensive, finely produced editions. (Wikipedia)
A couple authorities on chapbook: Ohio Reading Road Trip.
Keith Wilson's writeup is brilliant.
If you want a downloadable template try this form.
And if you want to formulate your chapbook because of a contest, look here: newpages.‎
Or the Poetry Society of America.

Why now? I bring it up only now because I've just spent some time with Enigma poetry by Melanie Whithaus. It's a slim chapbook in the classic format. It's also a great introduction to the poet as she is now. It's a snapshot of a moment in the evolution of the creative process. It is, as we'll discuss in the coming weeks, a group of poems formed into a project that is a final, completed project.

Next: Reflections of Enigma the poetry of Melanie Whithaus Part 2: Poets and the importance of the literary magazine.

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