A while ago, Noh Anothai taught us how to write Thai Nirat Poems at the RHINO Poetry Forum.
In his description of Thai Nirat Poems, the nirat is a sort of traditional Thai verse travel memoir (with origins as a courtly love poem): an account of journeys taken away from, and addressed to, absent lovers, that employs several conventions.
One of his translation examples:
“Cross & Part” reminded me of Semimaru’s waka. #10 Waka of Ogura Hyakunin Isshu (Anthology of 100 poems by 100 poets). Semimaru also known as Semimaro was a Japanese poet and musician of the early Heian period (around the 8th century).
#10. (Translated by Naoko Fujimoto)
we meet we sprawl
East to Kyoto to home
once we pass this gate. Here.
これやこの 行も帰るも 別れては
This waka is also playing with the name of the place. 逢坂の関 (Osaka no Seki) is a checkpoint for travelers to go down to Osaka or go up to Kyoto. Travelers must cross this gate. 逢坂の関 also phonetically means Au-saka no Seki, which is a meeting spot.
Here is my Thai Nirat poem. Noh told us that Nirat poems can be gracefully corny.
My new graphic poetry project started! It will be longer than "Offshore of Rikuzen Takata" (22 pages, forthcoming North American Review Open Space). This project will be in a simple black & white format.
I realized how much I could express with black pens & pencils. Many students inspired me this year through virtual lectures. Even their first drafts, their black & white sketches sparked my curiosity. I would like to explore more about this art style.
I read two volumes of MAUS by Art Spiegelman. In these, the author recorded his father's war experiences as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor in a black & white comic format. I admire his art style and story telling technique.
This new project will explore my grandmothers' war experiences exclusively through black pens and pencils. I have previously written and published poems about their stories, but now strongly feel that it is necessary to show these visually before they pass on.
This project is somewhere between poetry and creative non-fiction in a wide-screen comic style. I am posting my progress in my Twitter @Naoko_Fujimoto
Sarah Sloat's newest book, Hotel Almighty (Sarabande Books, 2020), is a collection of poems after erasing words from the famous American psychological horror novel Misery by Stephen King, along with her visual interpretations.
She explains her erasure poetry techniques in the following essay, as well as in an insightful interview by Kelcey Parker Ervick.
Erasure poetry was introduced to me when I was in college. Professors and students in my poetry community were really into erasing words until I graduated. My professor, David Dodd Lee, was erasing John Ashbery’s poems for his book And Others, Vaguer Presences: A Book of Ashbery Erasure Poems (2016, BlazeVox).
At the moment, I could not find joy in excavating new meanings from someone else's work. I felt it was more of a game than composing new poems, and I somehow felt bad for erasing words from the original text.
However, my thoughts on it had changed since 2009. I learned of many erasure approaches, but had decided the most crucial decision lies in choosing the right material to work with.
I met Alison Thumel who used The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo’s 2014 self-help best-seller. When I read her works, I truly understood the sparkling nature of erasure poetry.
Sarah's book choice for Hotel Almighty was really intriguing.
Her erasure poems carry the spirit of Misery through her personal lens showcased with collages. This is the technical and dramatic pinnacle of erasure poetry.
By Sarah Sloat
Hotel Almighty began four years ago as part of a month-long found poetry challenge. Every poet who put her hand up was assigned a Stephen King book as a source text, and mine was Misery. It wasn’t part of my usual reading terrain.
There are many ways to approach found poetry. You can use words from all over the book, you can shuffle words from a single page, you can pick out all the questions in the book and compose a list poem, or pluck every sentence beginning with something such as “the snow” and go for anaphora.
Or you can do blackout poetry, retaining the order of the words in the source text on a page or across a series of pages. I wanted to keep things simple, so I took this approach, limiting myself to one page per poem. This gave me freedom to start anew every day.
Blackout poetry sometimes involves literally blacking out unwanted words with a sharpie. But the poet can also white them out, or blue them out with a colored pencil. Taking an eraser to the page also works to a certain extent depending on the ink and paper, but never fully obliterates the unwanted text.
For a rough idea of how I approached the poems in Hotel Almighty, I’d like to discuss one piece from the book, [Like the damp…], which uses page 243 of Misery (Hodder & Stoughton).
Each time I went looking for a poem, I resisted reading the text and instead looked at it as a kind of inventory. I gathered a basket of nouns and verbs and any interesting phrases. It was important to disengage from the story, which I did read prior to starting the project.
On page 243, the phrase “like the damp” perches in the top line, impossible to overlook. As any poet can tell you, the simile is a mighty tool and a great temptation. “Like the damp” was a promising start, though I tried other possibilities. As with all the poems, I kept ideas in a notebook rather than marking up the page since I often changed course or abandoned a false start.
I consider myself lucky with Misery. Stephen King likes solid nouns and verbs. His prose is lively, it’s peppered with good choices. Moving down the page, could one ask for a better word than “mistress?” It’s a powerful word that quickly arranged itself as the subject of the poem.
At one point another version of this poem was at least twice as long. But in the end I kept it punchy, limiting the text to a single sentence:
like the damp / the mistress / had the run of the house
With every piece, only when I settled on a text did I consider the visuals. I wanted each poem to work on its own and obscured the superfluous text before choosing visual elements. For this poem, I used correction fluid.
Parallel to working on page 243, I was doing collages with flowers, mostly stuffing structures with plants and blossoms. Because I couldn’t be bothered to keep finding new houses to pack with greenery, I drew my own primitive houses. I had two versions of this collage, the one used in the poem and another full of red roses, which seemed a bit monotonous.
It’s a primitive rather slapdash drawing, like a child might do. Correction fluid, too, for all its charm is not the tidiest way to make an erasure. When I look at it now I think, wow, could have been a little neater than that! But it grew on me, as Misery did. Like the damp, like a mistress.
I was invited to an introduction to creative writing lecture at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, IL by Beth McDermott. She also talked about her creative writing and visual poetry materials in this interview.
Due to Covid-19, I joined her zoom lecture with half of her students from their homes and the other half from the classroom. Despite the long distance, her students explored the concepts of graphic poems. We did a three-minute graphic poetry exercise with pens & pencils (black & white art). Their first drafts were stunning! After the exercise, we also had a short presentation of their graphic poems.
The most fun and important part of creating graphic poems is deciding how to chose words and images from the original poem. Fundamentally, there are three choices:
I used Louise Glück's "All Hallows" for this exercise because:
Each student selected different parts of Louise Glück's poem. Examples of the students' favorite lines are:
With these lines, they worked on creating their versions of graphic poems. They added visual elements - - some students drew styles similar to contemporary comics - - some explored Glück's meaning of "harvest" - - some connected and adapted their favorite movies or additional images into her poem.
The amount of creativity they managed to conjure within three minutes was stunning! In addition, there was a good question about adapting the original into a graphic poem. One student asked how the graphic poet adapts the true meanings of the original poem.
My answers were (so far):
After I curated RHINO Poetry *graphic* Review, Luisa sent me one photo. Tiny pages were attached to a prescription bottle, which looked like it had flapping wings.
The charming photo made me smile. Then, it slowly became grim - - in my imagination - - I could not stop thinking that the Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia was gluing pages on prescription bottles (in the kitchen?) after she was done with her medication. What did the pandemic do to her? Maybe, she & I were the same, craving & searching for creativity with ordinal materials.
It was an amazing moment to realize that I personally got to know American Poet Laureates who shared their creative processes with me. In the past & forthcoming, Rodney Gomez wrote an essay about the process of his visual poetry book and Octavio Quintanilla will write an essay about his translation + visual poetry. I would like to cherish this fantastic highlight of 2020.
It was a known fact that this year was tough on everybody in the world. But during this difficult time, poets found ways to push their minds and their craft forward, which was real encouraging. Luisa found creativity with ordinal objects and moved her hands to make something; perhaps, searching her zen-moments. I was fortunate to learn about her process.
Luisa A. Igloria
There are scenes in movies and TV series, in which a character goes to the bathroom--
to wash their face or brush their teeth, put on makeup, look for a razor, a cotton pad, a nail clipper. They pull back the hinged door of the wall-mounted bathroom cabinet, and there behind the mirror beside the object they were looking for, sit one or two amber-tinted plastic bottles. These are of course the ubiquitous amber prescription vials we all get from the drugstore, holding everything from headache medication to psychotropics to diuretics and Beta-blockers. Each has a printed label with your personalized dosing instructions, your physician’s name, and how many refills remain after you’ve completed that round of therapy. Each comes with at least 2 printed pages detailing drug facts, conditions and symptoms covered, possible side effects; plus little diagrams showing the shape of the pill or tablet: round, oval, triangular (there’s a migraine pill with that shape); scored.
The thing I don’t quite get is how few of these bottles I’ve seen in narratives on film, despite the verisimilitude of everything else (in the same way perhaps that kitchens look far too neat to be lived in). My husband and I have about a dozen prescriptions between ourselves that we need to take daily. No way they would fit on those narrow white bathroom cabinet shelves. Besides, with the bathroom’s moist and humid environment (daily hot shower, anyone?) it really doesn’t seem the best place to store medication. Most of his sit in a small rectangular basket, and I have mine in a plastic tray I’ve recycled from some grocery item. We’ve also become those people who put their daily doses in dispenser boxes, each with a lid marked with the first letter of the day of the week.
Every now and then someone repurposes one or two—safety pin container, spare button container, pill kit for travel (when we still could). Up until very recently, I’d tear or lift the labels off empties before putting them into recycling. I can’t even imagine how many of these we’ve used. We’re both past 55 (see how I did that coy little move so you don’t know where on the spectrum between 55 and 60 we are?), so we must have gone through hundreds. Out of curiosity, I did a bit of internet research and read that the global market in pharmaceutical packaging (including plastic and glass vials with tamper-resistant stoppers and caps) made at least $908 billion in 2017, with the North American market getting the largest slice of the pie. That is a lot of drugs. And a lot of vials.
Sometime in late summer, in the middle of this pandemic, I started making and stab-binding handmade books using mostly recycled materials: stamped envelopes from letters that came in the mail, plastic bubble mailers, pancake mix boxes, a small stash of “Lucky Fish” fortune tellers that dropped out of the pages of a book as I was tidying up (I think they were giveaways from a poet’s book launch at an AWP conference years ago). I was preparing for a workshop I’m teaching for The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk starting 29 November— I’d given it a whimsical title: “The Poem is a Book is a Plane Ticket is a Chess Piece is a Lost Earring is the Clapper in a Little Bell is a Room Where You Can Breathe.”
This is a themed workshop, but we’re also going to be adding a second layer of exploration to our writing in the form of visual elements. Perhaps the poets will embody their poems as postcards, cutouts, erasures, illustrated letters, accordion books, mini poetry zines, repurposed books, matchbox poems, and more. A sudden inspiration came out of nowhere: if a book is any number of pages (of different expression or make—paper, parchment, vellum, wood, stone, metal, etc.) meant to be written on, read, preserved, and placed inside some kind of cover, how could I turn a plastic pill container into a
“book?” Perhaps it helped that I was also writing “sintomas|resetas,” a poem series revolving around the ideas of symptoms and prescriptions but expanding the “normative” meanings of both.
In any case, soon I was gathering whatever prescription information sheets were still lying about the house; I either tore off or blacked out the parts with identifying information, then cut them into long strips whose width was more or less equivalent to the height of the prescription vial I would use to make my “book.” After a short process of trial and error fitting, I decided to stab-bind little books using the prescription sheets as pages. Then I glued them so front and back pages of each one overlapped all around the periphery of each bottle. I decoupaged the white lids of the vials to cover the tell-tale W logo of the drugstore chain, and also to continue in the process of transforming the object into something more than what it was to begin with.
I’m mostly pleased with the results at this stage, though I think I will continue to manipulate each “book” some more—maybe I will paint images on the existing prescription pages using ink or watercolor or metallic marker. Maybe I will hot-glue a group of these “books” on a tray that will allow me to display them on a surface as well as hang them on the wall. Finally, I intend to deploy parts of my “sintomas|resetas” poems into each receptacle/book; perhaps I’ll include other objects (for instance, I have some Mexican milagros or folk charms a friend sent me a while ago) so that each “book” will literally hold both words and images/objects.
Especially considering all the stresses we’re experiencing during this period of global concern over the pandemic, the economy, and the violence in our political environment, I don’t know that I’ll be “done” anytime soon with this project. As I work on these pieces, I keep thinking of the Greek myth of Pandora, and how she was created because the gods, forever jealous and territorial, couldn’t get over how Prometheus had stolen divine fire to give to humans.
Pandora was supposedly the first mortal woman created by the gods; she was to be sort of their Enola Gay, as her purpose was to go into the world with a box of “gifts” which turned out not to be her dowry, but all the plagues and evils and diseases we now experience because these escaped when she lifted the lid out of curiosity. Hesiod describes Pandora in line 585 of the Theogony in pretty much misogynist terms: “For from her is the race of women and female kind: of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men to their great trouble, no helpmeets in hateful poverty, but only in wealth.” Pandora shut the lid in the nick of time though, so that one thing remained in the box—Hope. What about Pandemya (Tagalog/Filipino for “pandemic”)? She’s still loose in the world. Of course she will not be contained by politicians who willfully underestimate her, dismiss her as a trifle, something that we “just have to learn to live with” like the flu.
In July 2020, Gov. Ralph Northam appointed Luisa A. Igloria as the Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia (2020-22). Luisa is one of 2 Co-Winners of the 2019 Crab Orchard Poetry Prize for Maps for Migrants and Ghosts (Southern Illinois University Press, fall 2020). In 2015, she was the inaugural winner of the Resurgence Prize (UK), the world's first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. Former US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey selected her chapbook What is Left of Wings, I Ask as the 2018 recipient of the Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Poetry Chapbook Prize. Other works include The Buddha Wonders if She is Having a Mid-Life Crisis (Phoenicia Publishing, Montreal, 2018), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (2014 May Swenson Prize, Utah State University Press), and 12 other books.
Her poems are widely published or appearing in national and international anthologies, and print and online literary journals including Orion, Shenandoah, Indiana Review, Crab Orchard Review, Diode, Missouri Review, Rattle, Poetry East, Your Impossible Voice, Poetry, Shanghai Literary Review, Cha, Hotel Amerika, Spoon River Poetry Review, and others. With over 30 years of experience teaching literature and creative writing, Luisa also leads workshops at The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk (and serves on the Muse Board). She is a Louis I. Jaffe Professor and University Professor of English and Creative Writing— teaching in the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University, which she directed from 2009-2015. For over nine years to date, she has been writing (at least) a poem a day.
(Profile photo credits: Chuck Thomas, University Photographer, ODU)
(who also listened to my recent 8.55 minutes audio publication at the Indianapolis Review.)
I am so honored to live this moment & share poems with you. I hope you have a wonderful last week of October.
During the COVID-19 isolation, my schedule had been canceled and changed, so I meditated with drawing flowers. But soon I got bored, as if I had the same miso-soup every meal. It did not matter how I changed the ingredients. Miso-soup tasted like miso-soup. My flower paintings were my flowers…nothing excited me.
Around that time, I was introduced to Sophie Lucido Johnson from RHINO Poetry Editor, Nick Tryling. Both jointed RHINO *graphic* Reviews Vol.2 in September, 2020.
Sophie reviewed Unslakable (Paper Nautilus) by Rage Hezekiah. Sophie's art style was simple yet warm, and I love how she played with colors. Her style reminded me of my favorite children book's illustrations -- Matilda by Roald Dahl -- and many other illustrations by Quentin Blake.
When I was preparing for the graphic issue, I also learned that she painted many objects such as flowers, mushrooms, animals, and cookies in her blog with her lovely articles. Some topics were like "How to Make A Little Book" & "How to Make Your Life Swole With A Page-A-Day Diary", which were all fun to read. So, I asked her to teach me how to draw flowers and she kindly had me for her art lessons.
The Art Institute of Chicago currently holds Claude Monet's exhibition. He was the master of painting light. (I learned and heard that a million times.) It was so different until I forced myself to think about - - borrowing Sophie's word - - the white illusion of natural light.
Here are pictures Before and After. I am more aware of where the light hits. And soft colored pencils (thanks, Angela Narciso Torres!) are perfect to collaborate with these effects. I took in so many details watching and observing Sophie's technique though the zoom lens.
I am currently working on an English writing textbook for young Japanese children, so I will be upgrading my CAT drawing skills (maybe my cartoon RHINO too). Yes, Cats will be the navigators for how to write essays in English.
"This is not a poem. Please do not submit to us again".
This comment came with a rejection letter before my graphic poetry, "Protest Against", was accepted by North American Review.
I truly understood the concept of submission; however, this comment had stayed in the back of my mind. Since then, I started thinking of how I categorized my works and how they could be accepted as poems...though is categorization even necessary? This thinking influenced all my graphic projects afterward.
Even though stories and poems with visual elements were not new ideas, some writers & poets made a clear division between written words and painted images. When I observed contemporary pieces that expressed both images and words with writers, they criticized the written parts of it. I was one of them. I had my own poetic vector and judged these pieces by my developing poetic knowledge.
However, I am not saying that criticizing is a bad habit. It is necessary; especially in editing. All editors would like to cherish their selected pieces and create their publications for the best. In addition, the piece might not follow their current theme, even though it may be an interesting piece.
During the last two weeks, I collected essays about visual submissions by editors at the Indianapolis Review and the North American Review for this blog. They were actively accepting their visual/graphic poetry submissions. Both editors had similar submission goals. Almost like I found my own craft tribes.
The freedom I feel when approaching a blank page to write or paint on (or both) is exhilarating, as much as it is overwhelming. I think it helps tremendously to study what artists and writers believe about the practice and theory of making art, but ultimately you want to achieve that abstract, elusive goal: be an original: create in a voice that is all your own. -- Natalie Solmer, Founder and Editor of The Indianapolis Review
I’ve begun using the word “excellent” or “best” less and less, preferring words like “necessary” or even “involving.” -- J. D. Schraffenberger, Editor of the North American Review
The two editors also mentioned how important it is to be openminded. It might be easy to say it, but harder to do it!
When I was processing the first issue of RHINO Poetry *graphic* Review in 2019, it took me a decent time to gather proficient contributors who understood the concept of writing a book review with visual elements, which means that some parts of their reviews might be expressed as graphics without words. I was seriously nervous when the first issue came out thinking some people might say, "They are not book reviews. Please don't do it again."
Because of the first fantastic five contributors, the issue received phenomenal praises domestically and internationally. Therefore, the spirit could carry on to the second issue. The following year, new contributors were introduced to the review editor, Angela Narciso Torres, and me.
The nine contributors created graphic reviews including two animations. I am already excited to organize the third issue in 2021, and am looking forward to meeting the new contributors who explore possibilities with words and images.
Through my own graphic poetry submissions and RHINO *graphic* Reviews, I have been meeting talented writers and poets who craft their writing with visual elements. It was good to be reminded that I was not alone.
When our RHINO Poetry editor, John McCarthy, my partner, and I had breakfast together, we talked about atheism; perhaps, poetry as a kind of religion. John mentioned the poetry collection, The Necessary Poetics of Atheism (Twelve Winters Press). Their conversation was really interesting; however, I had to leave for my early lecture for the North American Review Writing Conference.
Even though I had strawberry waffles for breakfast, I could not resist a welcoming pastry at a reading room in the center of Seerley Hall at the University of Northern Iowa. There were a few people in the beautiful, gigantic room, but one person was playing the piano. It was a perfect morning with a chocolate croissant, hot coffee, and impromptu music.
The pianist was Jeremy, the author of The Necessary Poetics of Atheism!
Later that year, my graphic poem, "Protest Against", was accepted by the North American Review. In Final Thursday Press, the editors described my piece as, "The poem is a dance of boxed handwritten texts, my first love letter hid origami paragraphs, against Picasso-esque figures and face that populate the page. Red spills across the middle of the poem, and I love the way it takes the reader in, first visually and then through text."
"Protest Against" was not an easy piece to be welcomed because words, sentences, & images each had a message (protest against this current society). However, they seemed like random ideas together. I was really happy that the editors accepted my original concept and interpreted it as their own thoughts.
It is important to respect our traditional publishing style, yet I really think that we need no boundaries for our poetic forwardness. I respect the way that the North American Review is approaching their work.
The North American Review Gets Graphic
J. D. Schraffenberger
After many decades as a glossy magazine with black and white interior pages, in 2019 the North American Review rebranded itself, a process through which we not only thought deeply about what our mission and goals are, but also what our visual and material identity was going to be going forward. As guiding principles, we asked how our magazine could be more open, how it might invite and support eclectic and diverse writers and artists, and how this work can be socially and personally restorative.
The staff decided that in order to be open to the widest range of diverse work, including visual art, we would need to begin printing in full color, which has allowed us to present innovative graphic poetry like Naoko Fujimoto’s “Protest Against,” as well as a recent graphic review in our Summer/Fall 2020 issue by Frances Cannon of Ocean Vuong’s memoir On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, and in the Spring 2021 issue, we’re featuring Gary Kelley’s graphic narrative about the blues musician Robert Johnson.
Our commitment to publishing striking visual work is an ongoing process of discovering what is possible in our pages. For instance, “Protest Against” presented us a perfect opportunity to showcase a poem whose lyrical text was powerful in a traditional reading but whose aesthetic identity was more decidedly visual. We wanted it to serve as a declaration to our readers of how far into the visual we’re willing to go as editors. We are always open to visual art submissions in all forms, styles, media, and genres, including graphic poetry, graphic book review, and graphic narratives.
As to what the NAR is looking for in future submissions, well, I’ll say the same thing I would if we were talking about submissions of poetry, fiction, or nonfiction: we want something bold, original, strange and beautiful on its own terms. I’ve begun using the word “excellent” or “best” less and less, preferring words like “necessary” or even “involving.” As an editor and a reader, I want to encounter something that demands an answer from me, that brings me into the details of its world, invites me to take part in the moments of its life.
J.D. Schraffenberger is editor of the North American Review and an associate professor of English at the University of Northern Iowa. He’s the author of two books of poems, Saint Joe’s Passion (Etruscan Press) and The Waxen Poor (Twelve Winters Press), and his other work has appeared in Best Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Mid-American Review, Notre Dame Review, Poetry East, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. He lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa, with his wife, the novelist Adrianne Finlay, and two young daughters.
I actually have not met Natalie in person yet; however, I have been working with her on several occasions including RHINO *graphic* Review 2020. In addition, my graphic poems "Spaceflight Sonata P" (the Indianapolis Review, Spring 2019) & "Spaceflight Sonata P.2" (forthcoming) were accepted by her online journal.
"Spaceflight Sonata P" was an unusual piece because it was written on a toilet paper roll. The main concept was human history may as well be written on toilet paper—frequently flushed away—before we learn from our decisions, despite how horrifying some were. For more details, please visit her journal and my essay; "Then Why Did I Use a Toilet Paper?"
This piece was challenging to publish in both print and online journals because it was toilet paper - - super long, narrow, crumbed written letters without colors - - but she accepted it. Then, I strongly wanted to know more about her acceptance style & how she juggles poetic risks.
Founder and Editor of The Indianapolis Review
There is no easy explanation for how I choose the pieces of art that we publish in The Indianapolis Review.
I could give you the obvious answer that reads like literary journal guidelines--’we want what is vivid, urgent, original’--but I won’t. We at The Indianapolis Review do want all those things, but how do I quantify and define those factors? Instead, I will tell you more about the origins of the journal, my own narrative, and what principles have shaped my 'eye.'
I began The Indianapolis Review because some mystical force wouldn't let me sleep until I committed to fulfilling the vision I was seeing of the journal. I was already suffering from a lack of no sleep and no free time, so starting a journal seemed insane; however, I knew not to dodge The Muse. The vision I had of the journal came complete with a painting in my head.
The very first thing I did besides procuring our domain name was begin creating our cover art: the Indy skyline being swallowed up by fish and a giant moon. I also knew I wanted to publish 5 artists per issue, which is somewhat unusual for a poetry journal.
The art submissions have turned out to be the most thrilling thing for me, and connected me back to my own love of visual art. Though I have a Master's in Poetry from Butler University and lots of experience running poetry workshops, I do not have formal training in visual art. Therefore, while I feel quite confident in my critique of poetry, I have felt that the way I curate art for our issues is more intuitive and strange.
I say I don't have training in art, but I have training as a florist. I worked as a one for over 13 years and created floral designs, as well as visually impactful sales displays, every day. I got into that profession due to my training in horticulture and an absolute need to "do something creative." It has only occurred to me now that I am a full-time professor how much I desire the presence and creation of visual art alongside my need for poetry and words.
I've also realized that working as a floral department manager in a grocery for over 13 years taught me a lot about art. Here are some of those things which I have learned and which act as guiding principles in my curation process:
1-There needs to be an emphasis or focal point.
In floral design this is usually achieved by including a large flower amid small and mid-sized flowers, or by creating emphasis on one group of flowers. Apparently, we creatures like to have somewhere to rest our eyes, focus, and contemplate. I find I am drawn to visual art or visual poetry that has a focal point, whether it is an image or text. These things could be a figure, face, object or larger abstract shape amid smaller shapes, for example.
2-There should be a sense of proportion and scale.
In designing a vased arrangement, you aim for the arrangement to be 1.5 times taller than the vase, or at least as tall as the vase. Also, the arrangement should fit into its environment or place it will be used. Thus, sometimes a pavé style arrangement, where the flowers barely stick up out of a low container, is more appropriate in regard to its environment. Is the artist aware of the proportions of the objects in the art or the text included in the art? What is the proportion and scale communicating to the viewer about the art?
3-Be aware of the rhythm in your designs.
Rhythm is created by repetition and the arrangement of the repetition. It is found in the precise placement of the roses in a vased dozen: how they radiate outward from a central rose and are spaced equidistant apart. Rhythm is also found in the placement of figures in a painting: how far apart they are from each other, how they are positioned towards each other and in relation to the rest of the scene on the canvas. What is the rhythm of the visual piece, and is it helping to communicate the artist’s purpose?
4-What is your purpose?
Every time I created a design, it was for an occasion, even if that occasion was only known by the customer. A design carried a mood, and an underlying message based on its container and floral make up. I made the usual bestseller arrangements for anniversaries, birthdays, get well soons and new babies: rose bud vases, half and full dozens, mixed garden vases, and containers filled with flower foam.
But I also created the unexpected: monochromatic arrangements of all yellow or a dozen purple roses with purple filler flowers. The yellow arrangement might be a bit manic, insisting joy or perhaps good health, friendship. The purple roses created fantasy, romance, the unexpected. If no purpose or message can be discerned from a piece of visual art, not even the creation or transmission of a certain mood or feeling, then it is not vital.
5-Know what you are communicating with color.
As I alluded to in the previous point, colors often symbolize and communicate specific thoughts and emotions. A well known example of color symbolism in the floral business is that red roses stand for love, and yellow roses mean friendship. I never felt that these designations were set in stone, but colors have been scientifically proven to influence mood and emotion. What colors are used in a piece and why?
Whether a piece of visual art is black and white or a composition made of contrasting jewel-tones, color says something. If the color composition is neither harmonious, nor contrasting, doesn’t make sense with the purpose of the piece, doesn’t seem to be well thought out, it’s a huge factor in my experience of the design.
6-Do your work with an open mind.
I never wanted to be a florist in a grocery store--it sounds a lot less prestigious than designing in some fancy little floral shop, right? For awhile, I tried to leave the grocery and work in one of those shops. I would go interview in those places, and often they treated me very snobbishly after reading my resumé. After a few tries, I gave up. I realized that my situation was actually pretty great.
As a floral department manager in the grocery, I had huge freedom in what I designed, and I had stability, which I knew didn’t exist that often in mom and pop floral shops. I’ve certainly heard disparaging remarks about my working in the grocery from acquaintances, customers, and family alike. I learned many things working as a grocery florist, but one of the most important things I learned was to be open minded and not judge anyone by their job or material wealth.
Sometimes I see a submission of artwork to The Indianapolis Review that treats its subject matter with patronizing judgement. I certainly see this in poetry submissions as well. Often these pieces are trying to achieve the opposite--maybe bring awareness or solidarity to some social justice issue. However, if you are coming into your creation process with a mindset that you are superior, this will show through, even if it’s all subconscious on your part. Another aspect of this is when people judge certain styles or forms of art to be not as important or as serious as other art due to their popularity among artists that might not be formally trained, etc.
7-Now, go break all of my rules.
Go break everyone’s rules. My favorite thing about visual art and about poetry is that there are technically ‘no rules’ to either of these forms of expression. The freedom I feel when approaching a blank page to write or paint on (or both) is exhilarating, as much as it is overwhelming. I think it helps tremendously to study what artists and writers believe about the practice and theory of making art, but ultimately you want to achieve that abstract, elusive goal: be an original: create in a voice that is all your own.
Well, that’s all I got for now. I hope that at least one part of this was helpful in some way to at least one person. If you’ll excuse me, I am going to return to: mothering, making my art, attempting to write poetry, and grading lots of papers!