The New Re-Purposed Purpose of a Book

What is the purpose of “the book” any longer?  I write this question while I have a IMG_1745library of my own in excess of 3,000 physical books.  I number nearly that many in electronic books.  My physical books cover topics from ancient architecture and city planning, The History of Beads, everything ever written by C.J. Cherryh, a few of my favorite Margaret Atwoods, a copy of every single religion’s “holy” work, a few biographies (not my favorite genre), a number of “science for simpleton” reductionist nonfics, every Alice Hoffman, most Marge Piercey’s, and then a scattering of male authors which are early and / or hard to find in the U.S.

Since I got my tablet, I’ve moved away from the paperback novel.  The only works I collect in their first printings (either trade paperback or HB) are those novelists 51uYjP94oALwhose work I’d miss if the electricity goes out.  It also turns out that I don’t like electronic versions of cookbooks.  Tech manuals in electronic form are fine for me, but absolutely nothing to do with craftsmanship.  These days, I buy hardback books where the photographic or visual element are the centerpiece of the work.  The problem I’ve got is that my walls are shelves and I’ve run out of wall space  between the artwork I have up and the bookshelves.

While my “disposable” reading is purely electronic – that is, nearly all my romance and erotica – I can’t imagine losing the tactile quality of the physical book.  And while I might not be an avid collector, I think about the future of the book, and how what a book “means” is changing.

While my biggest concern is the secondary paperback market and the widespread Image-1availability of 2nd generation books at a reasonable price, one of the “promising” side effects of the electronic / transitory movement of words off the papered page is that it returns “the book” back to its “roots” in that at one time books were not disposable objects, but treasures.

Electronic publishing, like blogging, or poetry boards, or just the internet itself is the means for verbal diarrhea to overspill the page.   While I am one of those who will call a book “defective” and ask for a refund if I can’t make it beyond page 1, there are many of my electronic books I do love, but would never buy in meatspace.  They’re just not good enough.

Poetry is in even worse shape than the novel.  Not only did no one ever buy poetry since the late 70’s, now all the “poets” slap their print on demand works on Amazon where their rank falls below the 1,768,234th position.  Then there are the hastily IMG_1755printed chapbooks which are shoved into coworkers hands, a flood of posts on a dead internet bulletin board, and people’s responses in the comments section of a news article written in some desperate verse.  The small poetry sections of the few bookstores left feature mostly anthologies or dead poets anyways, with only a few representative live ones.

But I cannot claim to be free of hubris myself.  Because I don’t really want to try and organize myself to muck around with traditional publishing for The Marriage Bed
I’ve decided to take the letterpress printing a step further, I’m going to hand-set the typIMG_1763e and print the book in a limited edition run.  I love my work.  I believe in the pieces.  I believe in them enough that throwing them into the spectacle of electronic transience, or acid-paged burn just isn’t inspirational for me.

Who has last fondled their book of poetry?  Read a work time and again?  Made notes written in the margins about what inspired you in the piece?  When was the last time you re-read a live poet’s work so many times you felt their words to be your own?  When was the last time you held a book of beauty in your hands?

This slow process of hand-setting the type is an act of paying attention to each and every letter within each word.  One observes the punctuation around the phrases, the length of each line.  In considering the physicality of the object itself, the exercise is a second meditation on the work. The book will not be traditionally bound, but will be a series of cards, each set with their own poem and artwork.  There will be a limited edition box created for the cards as well.

It distracts from my writing, but the process is the closest I’ve gotten to taking my work seriously.

Working on Submissions Today

It’s been a busy week for me.  While I’m “unemployed” at this time (i.e., there ain’t a paycheck in sight), I spend my time working at my crafts.  I have to split my time between code work, job searching, poetry writing, and the “pilgrimage” I’m on to explore this larger world I’ve inhabited for so long, but in such a small way.  I call it my “walk-about.”  So, I go to a variety of conferences and technical talks to learn, listen, and meet people working in my professional field.

I don’t do this with writing or writer’s groups.  Why, you ask?  Because most writers I’ve worked with just want to hear expressions of appreciation for their own work.  There are only rare individuals who want to, or can manage, direct, blunt commentary on their work. Me, I need blunt commentary.  I can’t “see” my defects during the drafting process.  Now, if I come back to a piece after six months, a year, or more – then I can “see” more clearly what needs to be cut, reworded, rethought, or maybe just the whole thing tossed into the trash can.  But in the heat of the drafting process, which is the same week, month, quarter, or even half – year of the initial inspiration of the piece.  No.  I can’t see clearly at that point.  So, that might actually be another reason why I don’t submit.  I’ve needed this time to gain perspective on the work I wrote 10 – 13 years ago.  Still, the writer’s groups I’ve attended while in “meat-time” have been less than clear, without technical precision.  And no, I’m not interested in a master’s progragm.  Gah.  I can read and I can write.  Give me correspondence over lectures any day.

And then there’s the writer’s get-aways.  That’s almost too precious for me to credit.  If I won one, I’d go check it out, but  I’ve created my own nest, so traveling to write is usually more bother than productive for me.  My husband is fine with leaving me alone to the quiet of my office, to the emptiness of my space.  I sit at my comfortable desk with the large window in front of me open and I hear the beat of the hummingbird’s wings, or the heavy “thuk!  thuk!” of the pigeons walking on my roof.

Today is “working on my poetry” day.  I’ve been asked to send two pieces to the ERWA summer gallery and I’ve got to get my Rattle submission prepped.  Working to prepare submissions is not one of my strongest skills.  First, I have to actually care about the publisher and for erotic work, that’s quite, quite limited.  There’s a lot of vanity publishers available, there’s a lot of crap websites.  Anyone can post anything, but if you’re working on poetry as a literary endeavor, those publishers have seen more dreck than quality and so shy away.

I wrote about Rattle before.  They’ve just put up a new challenge, so if you’re stumped for a topic, go check this out. It’s also a great way for you to familiarize yourself with a reputable publisher, and what good writing looks like.

And what does “good writing” look like to you?  What poems have you read by people who aren’t dead or famous?  Do you carry someone else’s words around with you?  What are your thoughts about the poems in this month’s Rattle?  Could you riff off any of the pieces and make any of them more sexual?  What makes for weak writing in erotic poetry?  What do you think makes for stronger work?

Now for me to get back to my paperwork.