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!
I met Dara at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. We were both visiting artists supported by Tupelo Press and staying at the museum residency area. It was one fantastic summer time - - exchanging creative thoughts and knowledge with other visiting writers and artists - - we also had a chance to visit Tupelo Press. Their office was located at an old factory building along with print makers, pottery studios, and many other creative spaces. Now, Tupelo Press' office is closer to the main building of MASS MoCA.
During the stay, her poem was accepted by AGNI Magazine and we celebrated together. (She actually ate all my cooking, including super leftover spaghetti.) At that moment, she was working on her debut poetry collection, which won the 20th John Ciardi Prize for Poetry through BkMk Press at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Her book, DARK BRAID, will be available soon.
On Creating an Animated Book Review
By Dara Yen Elerath
When Cynthia Cruz came to read at my MFA program--the Institute of American Indian Arts—I approached her to express how much I admired her writing. I’m shy and usually reluctant to speak to esteemed authors, but Cruz’s poems affected me and I felt compelled to voice my enthusiasm.
Since then I have continued to admire the sinuous music of her language and her capacity to render experiences without moralizing, explaining or judging the characters in her poems. Instead of providing a framework for us to interpret her experiences, Cruz gives us a window onto them—dark and harrowing though they may be. At the beginning of her collection, The Glimmering Room, she cites the Gospel of Thomas:
“If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you do not
bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.”
In accordance with this, Cruz’s poems give voice to an inner world so dense and unexpected that it takes on the heady quality of a fever dream. The Glimmering Room addresses themes that might be too painful to encounter were they not wrapped in the narcotic beauty of her strange, raw and glamorously edgy imagery.
It is this imagery I began with when considering how to create an animated review for her book. Many lines in her poems conjured visions of America in the 1990s. Specific items stood out to me: Paxil, Care Bears, My Little Ponies. These evocations of the 90s reminded me, also, of zines—small-circulation, self-published fan magazines common to the era.
A do-it-yourself ethic was characteristic of these zines, which were often comprised of hand-made art and collaged images. While my own aesthetic is softer and does not reflect the punk sensibility of most zines, I still held them in mind as I began to lay out the graphic.
The main figure in my design was inspired by the many girls, often depicted in treatment facilities, that populate Cruz’s book. The youthful trappings these girls bear—stuffed animals, glitter nail polish and skater-boy haircuts—make the incongruity of their already adult problems all the more poignant. In several poems they wear paper crowns, which serve as a particularly apt metaphor for the notions of false power that underlie the narrative threads in this collection.
With regard to the animation, I wanted it to be minimal, but impactful. The review is composed of fragile, ephemeral-seeming elements—paper, tape, handwriting, line-drawings—that I hope reflect the psychic delicacy of Cruz’s characters; I decided that the viscerality of blood might provide a needed contrast to this. Since broken childhood is a defining theme of this collection I chose to animate the blood spilling from the girl’s chest like a gunshot wound.
While the technical aspects of crafting this review are beyond the purview of this brief essay, I would like to mention that I used two professional design programs, Photoshop and After Effects, to composite and animate the review. The images I created were assembled in Photoshop then imported into After Effects where I generated the animations using tools in the program. I took a frame-by-frame animation approach with the blood, rendering out several states of the blood spilling downward and letting the program interpolate the states in-between these.
I loved working on this graphic review, particularly for the time it gave me to spend contemplating the language and atmosphere of Cruz’s book. I appreciate the dialog between text and image, as well as between reader and writer, that these ekphrastic responses encourage. The idea of graphic book reviews is still new, but I’m grateful for Naoko’s work in generating the initial idea and in urging others to create them. My hope is that interest in these reviews-as-works-of-art will flourish and grow for years to come.
Dara Yen Elerath is a poet and graphic artist. Her debut collection, Dark Braid, won the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry and is forthcoming in 2020 with BkMk Press.
Virtual Girls Night with Dara at "ポエムスナックシャック" (Poem Snack-Shack)
We were editing this article together - - she had a virtual glass of milk & I had a glass of water. I played the piano per her request. Have a drink with us.
I met Kristen Renee Miller at a meeting of Third Coast Translators Collective. There Chicago-based translators gathered and exchanged their works through their discussions. I was invited to a corroboration workshop with the TCTC and RHINO Poetry.
After the translation workshop, she showed me her art and I was stunned. All her works were original and yet relatable to current our society - - like the animated review from RHINO Poetry Review (Graphic Issue Vol.2). She used her creative technique to show her review message, "...A...B...C...of...How...we...were...wrong...wrong...wrong..." with erasure of poetry from the book, Wilder.
Along with publishing her debut translation collection, SPAWN (Book*hug, 2020) by Ilnu Nation poet Marie-Andrée Gill, she writes poems, creates visual & animated art, & works as a managing editor at Sarabande Books. She is one of the most amazing and respected poets I have met.
Reading Claire Wahmanholm’s Wilder in the Apocalypse
By Kristen Renee Miller
I first read Claire Wahmanholm’s book of apocalypse poems, Wilder, unforgettably, on March 11th, 2020, the same day the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. I was somewhere in the airspace between San Antonio and Louisville at the time—flying home from the conference for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), which controversially kept its annual event on the books despite an increasingly grim outlook, a public outcry, and vast dropouts from members, exhibitors, and attendees.
For those of us who did attend, the conference maintained a furtive, conspiratorial feel in the hollowed-out convention center. Even at the height of conference hustle, it was impossible to shake the feeling of sneaking around someplace after hours, someplace abandoned, a modern ruin. The initial giddiness from superficial perks (room upgrades! no coffee lines! no wait for anything!) had long since dissolved into a heady sense of unease.
In the previous days and weeks, we’d been conditioned to doubt the evidence of our own senses concerning the virus (are we in danger? are we imagining things?), an ambivalence for which AWP was a tidy play-within-the-play. Did exchanges in book fair aisles feel hushed because of some shared sense of transgression, or only because we weren’t shouting over fifteen-thousand other people? Was the lighting in the exhibitor hall dimmer this year, or were we imagining it? At night we gathered at hotel bars and toasted the event ironically, hubristically, as co-conspirators: Uncanny Valley AWP. Last-Chance Saloon AWP. Zombie Apocalypse AWP.
Enter Wilder, which I borrowed on the plane from my seatmate and colleague Joanna and inhaled in a single leg of the flight. Wilder finds humankind mid-apocalypse in an imagined near future. In dreamy, gorgeous abecedarians, fabulist prose poems, and erasures of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, Wahmanholm describes a frighteningly plausible apocalypse. Yes, there is the environmental blight, the wildfires, the extinctions; yes, there is the ruin left by wars; there, the plagues ravaging those left. What leaves the strongest impression is the complete bewilderment of those who remain to witness it all, the chorus, the book’s collective “we.”
“Which of our wrong things had been wrong enough?” asks the collective voice in Wilder—the same question we conference goers and non-goers were asking ourselves and each other (mostly on Twitter) in early March: Which of our individual choices are responsible for this? Which of our collective choices? And what of the visible and invisible move-makers completely outside our control? Embedded in every exchange was the same shared sense of doom, the inevitability of The Worst. Already we had become Wilder’s chorus.
My animated review, which can be viewed in RHINO Reviews issue 3.3, is my attempt to encapsulate in just a few lines Wilder’s dreamy dread and Wahmanholm’s inventiveness and exquisite craft.
Starting with Wahmanholm’s abecedarian “Beginning” as a source text, I created a seven-part erasure poem* that unravels and rewrites itself as it careens (a little too fast) toward an inevitable “vanishing.” My previous visual poems have been individual images or image series, meant to allow the eye to linger, to wander. In this animated piece, however, I wanted to hurry the eye ahead at a pace a little faster than is comfortable to recreate my experience reading Wilder in the apocalypse: that slippery sense of the bottom dropping out, that hypervigilance that makes you afraid to blink.
*For those interested in the technical stuff, I made the animation using the Markup editor on my iPhone. I recorded the video with the iOS Screen Recorder and edited it with the mobile app Vixer. I’m sure there are far more professional tools for this sort of project, but I liked the slight imperfections of my method and the tactility of swiping the lines out one-by-one with my finger.
Kristen Renee Miller’s work appears in POETRY, The Kenyon Review, Guernica, The Offing, and Best New Poets 2018. She is the translator of SPAWN (2020), by Ilnu Nation poet Marie-Andrée Gill. A recipient of fellowships and awards from The Kennedy Center, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and the American Literary Translators Association, she lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where she is the managing editor for Sarabande.
Gomez's visual poetry book will be out soon this October from Pleiades Press. This press accepts visual poetry collections. Their submission guidelines are on their website. It is really fantastic to see that they publish all interpretations of visual poetry.
When I read Gomez's book, I immediately thought that he beautifully dissects his poems—each phrase deforms into image & word—like a cell dividing into multiples and creating new life. These fragments become a solid block, like a new identity throughout his book. It was really amazing to observe his works.
Then, I become curious about how he creates his visual poems. His work is digitally processed (unlike my graphic poems), but there are still earthly vibes in his poems. When I obsess over something or someone, I cannot resist learning from them. Gomez kindly replied to my question, "How do you process your visual poetry collection?"
Geographic Tongue began as a series of black & white word-only poems. Most of my visual poems start out that way. But sometimes you work a poem and put it aside wanting to return to it with fresh eyes.
What happened is that a lot of these pieces mutated in hibernation. They demanded images, colors, lines, and shapes. It became quickly apparent that I was wasting my time attempting to pigeonhole them into monochrome.
The more I gave up traditional text the easier it became to discover the true body of each piece. Some poems no longer needed a transition—they emerged fully formed as their true, colorful, dynamic selves. Now almost every poem I write has a visual twin. It has become easy to identify what form the poem needs and deserves.
At the same time I was writing Geographic Tongue I was also writing the poems in another collection, Arsenal with Praise Song, which arrives in January 2021 from Orison Books. That book confronts very violent imagery, mutilation, death, and similar themes, but there are no visuals in it.
Perhaps Geographic Tongue is respite to that work. Not that it lacks involvement with some tough themes. But there is something gentle and conciliatory in color and shape. Everything the reader sees in Geographic Tongue is a result of discovery. Visual poetry is a new thing for me and so the collection shows efforts of newness.
There are few collages here, few poetry comics. Nothing was painted or drawn with my hands. Everything was constructed in virtual space, and with a mouse, although I dislike using ‘virtual’ because the digital space is just as real as the space we take breath in.
My guiding principle was aleatory: to give the poem whatever body it needed. The result is a mix of different textures and tones.
Rodney Gomez is the author of Citizens of the Mausoleum (Sundress, 2018), Ceremony of Sand (YesYes, 2019) and Arsenal with Praise Song (Orison, 2020). His work appears in Poetry, Poetry Northwest, The Gettysburg Review, Blackbird, North American Review, Pleaides, Denver Quarterly, Verse Daily, and other journals. He is a member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop. In 2020 he will serve as the Poet Laureate of the city of McAllen, Texas.
Picture credits from The Indianapolis Review
The following essay was inspired by Hyejung Kook's zuihitsu 随筆 sentence. The original exercise was about 10 minutes, and in the RHINO Poetry Forum, all poets shared their lines from 5-second paragraphs of the 10-minute exercise. You may try this exercise even though I am a trained professional, you can still try this at home.
"A Cat Sits On a Mat"
This is the first sentence ever I wrote in English. Probably, I wrote it more than one hundred times. My first English teacher was introduced by my sister’s kindergarten friend from East Asia (I do not remember where his family came from) and his mother taught us English twice a week in our cookie-cutter apartment in Japan.
A cat sits on a mat.
It was British English--I noticed it later when I started my exchange student life in Indiana--so my sister and I learned British English pronunciation, but shortly after, our new English teacher came from Australia. My pronunciation is somewhere between Japanese—British—Australian—American Mid-west, but I realized my spelling of the color, “grey”, is in British English.
In her class, we first practiced the pronunciation of ABC as /ə/ /b/ /k/. We drew, “a cat sits on a mat” in our notebooks. Usually my sister took longer than I did. Soon, I started decorating the cat and mat. My first cat had a bow tie with a new cat wearing a silk hat. There was a flower vase on the mat.
It is clearly no longer, “a cat sits on a mat”.
I drew food—chopsticks, bowls, and tea cups. I added furniture around the cat (and more cats). Eventually I designed a whole house for the original cat that sat on the first mat. Some colorful cats lied on the floor.
A blue cat sits on a mat.
Adding the word "blue" was the most exciting moment I still remember. My brain recognized connecting words with meanings. Despite not memorizing how to spell, I could say many colors and objects in English before she went back to her own country.
A cat sits on a mat.
In our first class, my nephew and nieces were repeating the same sentence with their crooked handwriting, but my nephew was quiet. He did not want to say the sentence nor draw it.
"I don't understand your gibberish", he despaired, crying. His eyes wide open and raw like a small animal gnawing. He left our dining table and went to the corner, holding his paper.
A cat sits on a mat.
A cat sits on a chair.
A cat sits on a table.
"Is it bad manners?" my nieces laughed in Japanese, so I laughed too. After the class, they kept drawing and adding things around the original cat like I did nearly thirty years ago. My nephew came back and slammed his paper on the table, showing a gigantic purple cat sitting on the tiniest green mat. Then, they started chasing each other.