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Today, Rachel Moritz—whose How Absence is being bound now and is shipping as we bind—writes for us about the process of making these poems and of forming this book, and about motherhood.
A strange imagination
How Absence began as a series of poems written in the first years of my son’s life.
My son began as an idea, he was a process I undertook “to have a baby,” then a product of my body, then he was himself.
“. . . a strange imagination can do as much as the Heavens can. . . “ –Jane Sharp, midwife
While I was pregnant, I craved language about childbirth beyond the endless online articles or parenting books suddenly entering my world.
I was drawn to this midwifery manual of the late Renaissance, its textural and archaic words: the placenta a cake, the ovaries Seed vessels, the umbilical cord a Navel String. And its central illustration: a flower between the pregnant woman’s legs, her annotated, flayed womb as she stares out at us.
This woman is not the true subject of the illustration, though she contains it: both process (‘near the time of its Birth’) and location (‘the Womb, the Child therein’). I wrote often with this image, drafts of poems that never settled.
When my son was in the world, his presence felt like a nearness submerging me into cycle: sleep and waking, day and another day, being with him and being without him.
My suspension in the nearness of early motherhood (near to him/near to his body) also felt oddly simultaneous with absence:
Absence from self (a former intimacy vanishing instantly with his birth).
Absence from the other half of my son’s biological material (his conception through a donor we’ll know little about until my son turns 18).
Absence/removal from time as an axis I perceived myself moving along with (seemingly) clear direction.
In its place: foreground, blur, repetition.
As my son grew beyond the first early months, time also seemed to warp. It sped up. Physical sensations, moments of image, days, months: everything felt like it was hurtling toward me at breakneck speed. His presence was the new calendar, one that, before, had never felt so unrelenting as well as so swift.
Is one’s sense of time more intimate under the nearness of living with a young child or is it simply that one’s sense of space has shifted? How all things shrink around the perimeter of a person (hood) not your own.
In some sense, what’s transformed most since my son’s birth is my relationship to time + space.
These two locales (what else do we live by?) directly affecting my imaginative life: access, energy, scope, focus.
The poems in How Absence are one set of frames or distillations around shifts in self that continue the longer I’m in motherhood, or, I suppose, it’s in me.
Celina Su’s microseries chapbook, Plurality Decree, is now available for pre-order. The third chapbook in our microseries, Plurality Decree contains three poems that comment on uses of space, question ideas of public and private, and insist that their readers look at what is often kept ‘sanitized’ and invisible. Su’s poems reflect the frantic multiplicity of life in a time where laws, documents, decrees, texts both official and subversive, scientific objects, maps, and the possibility of individual actions/inaction seem to overlap one another more and more.
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The microseries chapbooks are 10 cm square; covers are printed inside and out in full color by the wonderful Tompkin Press in Nottingham, UK. They’re ideal for presents and fit inside standard greeting cards. Long live the postal services of the world! Order here.
Dimensions: 10 cm square
Printing: full color
Edition: 100 (25 to writer)
Every time I set out with a new manuscript—heading for the precipice marked make a book—although I have the accumulated knowledge and abilities gained from the process of all the books that have come before, it feels like starting over from scratch. I have to remind myself of, or relearn, order-of-operations (where to cut first? Where to fold first?). I have to refamiliarize myself with the mathematics of Illustrator and my printer and the persnickety paper cutter. And this means trial and error, and frustration, a little panic (oh my god will this ever work?!), and, eventually, the satisfaction of seeing the book come together as I imagined.
How Absence was no different; in fact, it is an ideal case-study of this process. Everything that could go wrong in the printing process has gone wrong: printing errors and supply chain blockages, miscommunications and undelivered goods. Math errors. Misestimations. Last-minute changes.
This morning, I folded the first of the 140 covers (there are 120 + 20 marked e.a., for Rachel—édition d’artiste), and I trimmed the green endpapers and nested the textblock into them, and then these into the cover, and it was, suddenly, real. Here is How Absence, the latest book from our 2015 list. Rachel’s poems are mysterious and elegant, like dreams. The language moves through them with the sureness and care that has been a hallmark of Rachel’s writing since I first encountered it (more than ten years ago).
How Absence is also available as part of our limited-edition motherhood bundle, a collection of chapbooks which deal with motherhood, child(ren), and the interrelation of parenting and art-making. Of course, if you’d like to receive books like How Absence in your mailbox all year, you might consider one of our subscription options. Thank you for your support!
Rachel Moritz’s How Absence (now available for pre-order; shipping early April—or subscribe, for a whole year of books) has been praised by Sarah Vap as “a stunning collection that lurches with open arms, seemingly in slow motion, seemingly quietly, and seemingly with a surfeit of pause, pause, pause—toward her infant son’s creation, and toward her own mind’s creations. The language here, like the infant’s making, like everything that’s invisible, (like absence), becomes the immensely weighty presence: ‘Something transparent, we know/ still contains.'”
The poems in How Absence, like shards of pale pottery from an archaeological dig, tell us about what time does to human beings: all we are, all we make and do, and how it falls into dust. But Moritz, in the face of time, offers us not despair but the mercy of genetics and the terrible beauty of the fine line between the born and the dying.
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21 x 12.5 cm
Cotton paper cover
Hand-bound in Belgium by MIEL
Edition of 120
Printed in Nottingham, UK, by Tompkin Press Co., Ltd.
When I told Laressa Dickey that I, too, was tired of her work being passed over in contests and open reading periods, and that I thought it was worth publishing, and hey, what if I published it (in December 2011), I knew almost nothing about publishing. I knew almost nothing about book design. I set off, as with most things I do, backwards: first committing to making the books, and then figuring out what I needed to do to become a press.
When I think back on the four months between telling Laressa I’d make the press that would publish her work—why not; lots of writers have done this, I said—and launching the first two of her chapbooks alongside Neele Dellschaft’s first chapbook, I remember scrambling to get ISBNs and a business address. I remember watching lots of videos on YouTube in order to figure out how InDesign worked. I remember getting the first batch of covers and it being a real lesson in measure thirty-six times, send the files to the printer once. Oops. I remember folding and binding on the red table in our workroom with Jonathan and Neele. I remember getting those tiny broadsides in the mail from Andrew Schroeder (for Josh Wallaert’s chapbook and Laressa’s third and fourth chapbooks).
As with lots of things I do, and for better or for worse, MIEL began as a piece of play. A game. Let’s imagine what could be, and then let’s do it. That’s a manifestation of my impatience but also of my belief that things are possible and that individual people can make objects and spaces (that we don’t have to wait for the ‘professionals’ to do it, and that we don’t have to make things that act, look, or feel the way ‘real things’ do—we can make our own, in our own way, with the terroir of our individual capabilities and experiences). The incredible thing I learned is that once you start the game, people believe it’s real. And they say yes to things like you publishing their books, even in different formats (like the postcard edition of Nancy Campbell’s How To Say I Love You in Greenlandic, which sold out within a year of publication). And then reviewers say yes to reviewing them. And people, incredibly, show up to buy them.
Designing and publishing Lisa Solomon’s book was in many ways a turning point for MIEL. Prior to this I had used my own savings to pay for book printing (our books generally cost between €200 and €400 to print; at that time I had some work and cheap rent, and I used what was left over to print books). But Lisa’s book is full-color and bound in signatures. It was going to be impossible to publish without assistance. I applied for an Arts Council England grant (thanks, ACE!), which paid for the printing and my time designing the book. Working with Lisa on this was such a gift—her trust in my work really made me aware of the relationship between me as a book designer and editor and the writers and artists whose work I want to support. The money from the Arts Council, and Lisa’s trust—and the book itself, which is the most ‘real’ book we’ve published in design terms (it has a spine, I mean)—made me realize that MIEL could be play, but it was also and simultaneously serious.
One constant in the press work has been the pleasure I take in all aspects of book shows and small press fairs. Everything from designing and building displays, to interacting with visitors: although it can be draining (long days, lots of people, sometimes I forget to eat enough), it is so great to get to talk to people in real time about these books, and to watch them enjoy them, pick them up, read them. As a micropress, lots of book work—like lots of writing—is isolated, quiet, uncompensated. Being in rooms with people, seeing and participating in the life of small presses and of books, is an unmitigated joy.
When I think back now, I’m amazed at how much has happened in the past three years. (MIEL launched its first three titles on March 16, 2012). There are books now that didn’t exist then. I know how to do things (use InDesign and other parts of Adobe CS, market books, manage inventory, offer editorial guidance, work with printers) that I didn’t before. I’ve gotten to meet and correspond with so many great writers and artists, have hosted readings, have helped make connections between writers and other presses when the work wasn’t a fit for MIEL. Not trying to toot my own horn. Just kind of incredible to me how at one point there wasn’t and now, despite the ways in which I still struggle (managing the workload without getting overwhelmed) or worry (the panic of oh my god did I send the proofed version of the manuscript to the printers?!), there is. And the is includes books like Kristen Case’s Temple and Shana Youngdahl’s winter/windows and Megan Garr’s Terrane and Bethany Carlson’s Diadem Me and Jonterri Gadson’s Interruptions and Rachel Moritz’s how absence. And more are coming. (!!!! Although I tend to get bogged down in worry—will the books do justice to the texts? Will they please the writers? Where will the money come from, oh god, the money?—when I step back from my worry I realize how thrilling, really, in a physical way thrilling, it is to be able to make these books.)
So thanks, writers and artists, for trusting me to put your writing and art into the world. And thanks, customers, for buying the books and other things, and allowing me to continue. Thanks also to my parents, who, despite my protestations, order every book (don’t do that! I will send you copies for free!). Thanks to the Arts Council, and to Writing East Midlands, and to the Small Publishers’ Fair and to Free Verse and to States of Independence, who made it possible for the books to exist and provided venues where people could encounter them in real time. Thanks to the reviewers who’ve taken time to read and think about the writing. Thanks to the people who sent work to read during the open reading periods each year. Thanks to Richard of Tompkin Press in Nottingham and Tom Jessen of Foxglove Press in Maine for working with me, producing the books, and tolerating my beginner’s mistakes. And special thanks to my friends, especially Jon, Neele, Matt W., Carol, and Laressa, who have supported me and believed in the press all along. Thanks to Jonathan who as usual made things possible (and always talks me down when I think I’m being silly to try things like this). Three years! Let’s have a few more.
This week, Megan M. Garr, author of the recently released Terrane, offers us the story of the book’s origins.
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Terrane began with a single word, which is not itself anywhere in the poem. Heide.
heide – heiden
heath – heathen
A semantic judgment based on a people’s relationship to the land.
Or, more precisely, on how they choose to use that land.
Terrane was drafted in the summer of 2012 in Iceland. Between trips as far into the landscape as I could dare, in a rented SUV, were long writing days overlooking the Langjökull icecap.
I had saved for a year for this, what I called my self-funded residency, having gotten to the point that to write, I needed to leave Amsterdam entirely, be out of calling distance (if only virtually) from my work, my overpriced expatriate market apartment, my duties at Versal, which ran through every hour.
In high school, my best friend Jennie and I fantasized about moving to Greenland. For us – until we discovered that there was a US air force base there – Greenland was untouched land, an escape, somewhere where we could start again.
Every day, from 1993-1997, I wore a pouch around my neck. In that pouch were tokens my friends gave me, souvenirs of my adolescence: a 20-sided die, a river stone, found pennies, a screw from the bleachers, a ring, a laminated map of Greenland…
…and many other little objects, now tucked in a shoebox at my childhood home in Nashville.
At the bouldering gym in Reykjavik, I met a geologist who told me, “If you get lost in Greenland, you’re going to die. If you get lost in Iceland, just stand up. Someone will see you.”
I found out later that this “stand up” business is just an old Icelandic joke. After centuries of sheep grazing and logging for fuel, there are not many trees in Iceland.
When I came upon a Spanish family in their SUV, sinking in the Þórsmörk river, all I had to do was dial 112 on my mobile and flag down help further down the valley.
I can confirm a sense of safety here, among the danger.
I was among the stranded of the 2010 Eyafjallajökull eruption. Eyafjallajökull: the ice cap of the mountains of the islands. A stratovolcano of lavas ranging from basalt to andesite.
There’s a story behind Terrane that I’m not ready to tell. Not in prose, at least, where everything gets named for exactly what it is.
But here in 2012, here in Iceland, driving within sight of Eyafjallajökull as often as I could, here I tried to tell it, here the telling began.
Long days behind the artificial landscapes of my laptop, trying to write poems.
Long drives on roads like these, fording rivers.
Inhabiting open country.
As far as possible.
Please feel very invited to this three-part writing workshop for “not writers” (but writers are also very welcome) this spring. The workshop will take place on Saturday afternoons in March (14), April (25) and May (9) for two hours each time, and each session will be built around strategies for approaching writing, suggestions for engaging in critique, writing exercises, and discussion of reading, all with the aim of helping participants find ways to approach writing as part of daily life (and thereby make writing something both possible and ordinary). We will also do some gentle workshopping (writing critique). You are welcome to come for one, two, or all of the sessions. Please book ahead of time; pay in cash on the day.
The workshops are for anyone who is interested in writing, regardless of where they are in their practice now. Whether you write in English or another language; whether you write poetry or prose, the workshops are open to you. They are intended to offer a supportive and encouraging environment to begin writing as daily work, or to jumpstart a dormant practice. There will also be baked goods and hot drinks, fresh air, light, and lots of enthusiasm and excitement about writing.