Saturday, June 27, 2009

The dedication, continued: Carol Potter

Carol Potter was the first of two poetry teachers I've had in online courses through UCLA Extension. I took her "Intermediate Poetry Writing" class two years ago, when seemingly unprovoked I decided to try writing again after a hiatus of something like ten years (excepting the love poems I'd written for Jenny). What her course and the one I took with Christina Mengert both did extremely well was to provide a relentless pace of assignments and deadlines, and supportive and detailed critiques of what I wrote. Many of the later poems have a form in the book unrecognizeable in their initial drafts because of Carol's (and classmates', but to a lesser extent) suggestions.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The dedication, continued: Tom Clark

I've been reading Tom Clark's poetry since I was in high school in Simi Valley, thirty-five years ago, and found a copy of Another World, still my all-time favorite poetry anthology, at the Simi Valley Public Library. Tom is that volume's opener. Finding his books Stones and Air at the U.C. Riverside library when I was going to Johnston College in Redlands was a further influence on my writing at the time.

In the mid-1980's I met Tom in person when I signed up for a U.C. Berkeley Extension poetry class he was teaching, and from that point on he has served as a model of writing and taking poetry seriously. That first workshop class was also where I first met the three poets whose friendship I valued most in the ensuing decade: Owen Hill, Richard Retecki, and the now-deceased William Talcott.

During the 1990's I audited a number of the poetry classes Tom taught at his home through New College... I've lost touch with him in the last ten years, partly because when I'd pretty much done all the classes he taught, my own work didn't serve as a sufficiently strong reason for communication -- all the more so when I stopped writing altogether for several years. Nevertheless, my affection and respect for him have never diminished.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The dedication, continued: Barney Childs

I've studied poetry-writing formally under four teachers, not counting junior high and high school creative writing. The first of the four, the composer Barney Childs, taught poetry-writing and poetics at Johnston College when I went there between 1975 and 1977. I was commended to Barney's poetry seminar even before I started at Johnston, when I visited as a college senior and told people I talked to that I wrote poetry/wanted to be a poet. Barney's classes were described to me as "rigorous" and in terms that made them sound like poetics boot camp. I guess Barney's gruff persona readily amplified into the drill sergeant required by the latter metaphor.

The poetry I wrote in Barney's classes wasn't much better than what I wrote outside of class, but I did pay more attention to forms like the sestina and sonnet because of his assignments, and perhaps I did take on a sense of standards, of the need for work to be good enough to "stand" on its own. I remember that Barney was an admirer of the poet Paul Blackburn, the purity of his practice and the combination of openness and formalism evidenced in his work.

I've been writing irregularly about my two years at Johnston, under the heading "Garden of Earthly Delights," on my main blog. More may be found there about those rarefied environs and times long gone...

Monday, June 15, 2009

The dedication

Book dedications are curious holdovers from the era of aristocratic patronage, when books were dedicated to the individuals who actually paid for their creation and production. My brother Steve did the right thing, of course, in dedicating his first published novel to his parents, and I would have done well to have followed his lead. On the other hand, there might be other books I could possibly write someday that would be better given to them (or to their shades). I decided to follow the equally long tradition of dedicating my poetry to my poetic progenitors. But to whom, if to anyone, did I "owe" for the writing I've done in the past three decades? Randy Greif has probably done more than anyone else to get me writing and supporting (by making use of) what I have written, but I consider him primarily a friend rather than an instructor...

I went through two iterations of the dedication before arriving at its current form. The first was "To Barney Childs and Tom Clark, my masters in the craft." Growing increasingly uncertain that any readers would be able to discern any way in which either of these gentlemen could be considered my masters (as if I was claiming to have served apprenticeships with them), I changed the wording to "To Barney Childs and Tom Clark, masters of the craft." That wording, however, called attention in my mind to the fact that I didn't actually know much about Barney Childs' poetry (although he taught me a great deal in the classes I took with him), not enough to be able to affirm in my own mind that he actually was a master of the craft, however strong my expectations might be that he would have been such. Beyond that, I questioned whether I had a strong enough personal connection to Barney to be so presumptuous as to dedicate my work to him and thereby implicate him, especially when not being among the living he would be unable to defend against the charge.

The final form of the dedication rests in a statement of fact: "To my poetry teachers: Barney Childs, Tom Clark, Carol Potter and Christina Mengert." These four turn out to be the only teachers with whom I've done formal instruction in poetry or poetics. Moreover, the form of the dedication doesn't actually charge them with anything substantive. It seems fair, and enough to pay the debt owed.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The process of self-publication

My brother, Stephen John Svoboda, self-published his novel For Reasons of Youth one year ago, and it was after ordering a copy and seeing it come in the mail looking all real that I determined to self-publish myself through Authorhouse, the same company he had used. I forced myself to work on the collection in earnest at the end of 2008, when I took advantage of one of the company's frequent promotions to "lock in savings" -- at the time I hadn't really looked into alternatives, some of which in retrospect look as though they might have ended up with an equally real-looking book at a fraction of the cost.

Authorhouse provides some nice services that really do give you the sense of "being" published as opposed to just publishing yourself in the sense of going to Kinko's, printing your stuff up, and trying to get other people to read it. They schedule a conference call with the people who lay out your cover and galley, and they sound knowledgeable on the call. If anything, they set your expectations a little over high in that process, perhaps especially in the case of poetry...

When I got my first galley proof back, I discovered that rather than simply porting my lineation over from Word, the layout person had transformed over a hundred of my poems in ways that made no sense at all: for instance, about fifty of the poems in the middle of the poem (which, granted, have no punctuation or internal indications of lineation) had their titles and all text concatenated into slugs of text bearing no resemblance to the originals.

I spent several weeks stewing over the mess that had been made of my book, then hunkered down with a copy of the galley and my original, inserted line breaks and correction marks, sent back a two pound package of corrections, and found that whoever they have doing corrections to galleys is seemingly more attentive than whoever does the first cut. My second galley proof was "perfect," in the sense that it made every correction I had asked for, correctly. Any remaining errors or typoes are my own...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

About the cover

The cover image is from a slide of "God Speaks to the Child," a monotype I did in 2002 at Trillium Press, now Trillium Graphics. (As a side note, I have found the process of realizing images that David Salgado and his colleagues enable at Trillium the most satisfying and productive I've ever experienced. All of the printing is done by the masters with a degree of delicacy and attention to the artist's intention impossible on a conventional etching press in the time frame of a day. I would highly recommend them to any artist with the money to spare.) I used the image for my open studio postcard in 2004, exactly five years ago as I write. (I still have probably a hundred of the postcards in stacks variously around the house.)

I've done a number of drawings with the title "Collapse of the Grid," but I didn't think any of them would translate well as the cover of a book. I think it's just barely possible to put the interpretation on this image as well: there's just the hint of a grid embedded in the head-like form (my "child" when I came up with a title for the image), and the downward movement of the the main vertical-diagonal form could be read as a "collapse," depending on what you think it might be collapsing from...

Once I had chosen the image, and the background color, Authorhouse did the rest...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Proof copy!

Received my first physical copy of Collapse of the Grid today... it looks good enough that the frisson of self-publication comes quite close to the real thing. Contact me if you're interested in a signed copy, or go to Amazon for quick, easy, and super saver shipping...

Friday, June 5, 2009

About the title

The title is also that of one of the most recent poems in the collection.  "Collapse of the grid" is a phrase I'd heard used in electric system operations and media coverage of same, to refer to large-scale failures of the transmission grid that cause extended blackouts.  I liked the phrase originally both because of its inherent poetic drama and because it tied in well to visual work I was looking at, especially by artists like Eva Hesse who both used grid systems in their drawings but also allowed such systems to "break down," if you will.  Under the influence of drawings like Hesse's I did some large scale pen and ink drawings on pink vellum which I gave that title.  One of them was the only drawing I've been able to get into a juried art show to date, at the Berkeley Art Center about four years ago I think.

Last year I wrote a poem with the same title, to be found in the last section of the collection.  I chose it to be the book's "title poem," as they say, because of this nexus between my writing and day job, and in the "back story" my drawing and visual work, which it seems to point toward even as it also, obviously and ironically, points toward the mortality (possible, probable, and eventually certain failure) of all efforts...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The cover

Not having seen a copy yet myself

I've seen and approved the galley and cover proofs that together should result in a book that looks exactly like what I imagine it to be.  However, I've yet to see an actual physical copy of the book.  In that sense, the book is still virtual as far as I'm concerned.  Already, though, I'm finding the "product description" which I made up cavalierly for Authorhouse slightly embarrassing.  It's what's used on Amazon, and reads

Collapse of the Grid collects poems written over thirty years, including pieces used in avant-garde musical works during the 1980s and 1990s by Randy Greif and Art Simon. The most recent poems incorporate the new experience of being a parent into the inscrutable stream of wordplay that seems to define my earlier work.

Aside from the question of whether this places too much emphasis on the connection with "avant-garde musical works" (I think it probably does), the phrase "inscrutable stream of wordplay" is an ugly mix of cuteness and self-deprecating negative energy, no help to the poems, myself, or of much use to you the reader except to keep expectations low.  I'll have to think a little about how I'd like to revise the product description, but for now, lose the second sentence...