Next week, I’m embarking on one of two little first-book tours, and I’ll be blogging about those tours here. The first tour is in California, and I’ll be doing readings at Pomona College, at University of California Merced, in San Francisco, and in Santa Cruz. The second tour will include stops in Richmond, Raleigh, Philadelphia, New York City, Providence, and Northampton. More on that tour in a future post. I’ve never blogged before, and I’m nervous because I have this idea that blogs have to be funny, and I don’t think of myself as being funny, at least not on purpose. I told this to my friend Claire Becker—who I’ll be on tour with in California—and she told me she would trade me funniness for beer on tour. I took her up on her offer.
Claire and I will be on tour with Cynthia Arrieu-King. Cindy and Claire’s books are both nearly out from Octopus Books, the fabulously cephalopodic small press run by Zachary Schomburg and Mathias Svalina. We’ve dubbed our tour Where People Go Missing, a name that combines the titles of our books. Cindy’s book, People are Tiny in Paintings of China, and Claire’s book, Where We Think It Should Go, are both amazingly great, and soon they will be available on Octopus’ site, as well. You can also check out Claire’s (funny) blog here. My book will be out soon from Cleveland State University Poetry Center, and is called Rust or Go Missing. Check it out.
I’m interested in how people envision the covers of their books, and how covers come to be; it seems that we spend so much time tinkering and living with the insides of a book, there’s a different kind of pleasure to thinking the book’s exterior into being. I certainly have a fetish of the book—when I was a kid, my mother, sister, and I used to take weekly trips to the bookstore, and my family members routinely accused me of judging books by their covers. Though I vehemently denied the charges, they were absolutely right: I prized pretty covers. I do the same thing with wine bottles now. I love the object, and I’m not ashamed to say so. Isn’t that part of the desire to have a book at all (if have is even the right verb to use)? To have this (seemingly) ineradicable thing that exists in the world and exteriorizes the interior somehow makes one feel more actual. While I cringe at my ego’s desire for that physical thing, I think it’s a human want, to feel a little bit more rooted. In any case, I asked Claire and Cindy to tell me about their book covers, and they were kind enough to oblige me. Cindy says the following:
About a week after I heard Octopus was going to do my book, I happened to see Scott Parry’s work on dooce.com; some terranauts in a desert. Looking over his work on-line, I liked many of the images but “Mountain Starscape” kept coming back to me in my mind. I realized the book refers often to mountains and that the colors over the mountain were pretty metaphoric to the content. It was hard, but I said no to a few other designs until I called up a painting professor Margaret McCann at the school where I teach, Stockton College. She looked at the Octopus Books catalog, and said she knew a recent graduate who could do this work. Margaret and I sat behind Ken Miranda in the school’s graphic design lab, backseat-driver style. He squinted at the original image a little bit and basically read my mind. It took him all of two and a half hours. Margaret kept joking, “Ken, can you photoshop a sandwich on to the lawn?” “Can you photoshop my head in the sky?” It was hilarious, the best meeting ever. And I’m so impressed with what he did.
And Claire told me the following about her book:
Zach and Mathias very generously let my sister Lauren work on the cover for my book. My sister has always helped me make things look nicer. I’m very grateful for Lauren putting many hours and many days into versions of the cover. She read the poems and came up with a few ideas, one of which was her version of a scene in the movie Les Bonnes Femmes, 1960, directed by Claude Chabrol.
My sister saw fifty movies in the theater in 2007; we saw that one at the Walter Reade Theatre in July. Les Bonnes Femmes was visually stunning, with an indoor-swimming-pool scene, lots of time on the streets, in the shops, and a little scary stuff in the woods. The 1960s Paris shopgirls make me think of my mother, who is French, and who was flying to Paris in the 1970s as a flight attendant.
What started as a possible die-cut cover (see image below), turned into a hand-drawn version of the image, where the hair and background define the space of the faces. The two women, leaning their heads together, stand for sisters, moms, friendships, relationships with people who are not necessarily lovers. Those are extremely important in my life, and, I think, in many of our lives. And there are lots of times in our lives when we need to lean our heads on someone’s shoulder.
As for my cover, in spring 2009 I had just been to a Cy Twombly show at the Art Institute of Chicago, “The Natural World: Selected Works,” and I was in love with the paintings. Shortly thereafter, I was in the Seminary Coop Bookstore (near University of Chicago), and as I started looking through Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons, I came across this beautiful, abstract, green and white series from 1988, named “Untitled.” I was immediately struck by how the painting I chose for the cover is lush, but its lushness (in the form of green, foliage-like strokes) looks as if it’s in the process of disappearing off the left side of the canvas. I liked, then, how this part of the painting, to my mind, goes missing, alongside the fact that the vegetative color-scheme and weather-like movement of the paint grate against my conception of rust. The painting seems to both go against and complement the book’s title. And as someone who is, generally, obsessed with doubleness, I was sold on the painting’s knotty relationship to my book’s title. The wonderful Amy Freels then designed the cover, and somehow read my mind as to what I would have wanted the book to look like had I been able to articulate that desire.
So, on the eve of a first-book tour, thanks for letting me reflect on books and their objectness, however briefly. And many thanks to Claire and Cindy for their thoughts. I’ll be back with an update on the readings, on trading beer for funniness, and hopefully with some photos of our travels in California.
Where People Go Missing Reading Tour: with Lily Brown, Cynthia Arrieu-King, and Claire Becker
Wed. November 17th, 4:15 PM
Thurs. November 18th, 7:30 PM
Distill Office Space
223 Mississsippi, Ste. 3
San Francisco, CA
Fri. November 19th, 8 PM
A New Cadence Reading
Sat. November 20th, 7:30 PM