From Literary

Chapbooks and Zines

It’s funny: chapbooks and zines form a kind of Venn Diagram, the difference (broadly) being that chapbooks are sometimes fancy and/or expensive—and hold higher editing standards— while zines are almost always cheap self-produced projects, making good use of a photocopier.

Chapbook: “a small book or pamphlet of popular tales, ballads, etc.” The term derives from chapmen, a type of peddler in the 19th century, and currently refers to small books up to 40 pages, usually of poetry.

Zine: a small-circulation self-published work of original and/or appropriated texts and images, usually making good use of a photocopier.

Book artists have especially embraced the chapbook as a way to showcase material creativity, branching slightly away from the poetry publishing and creating objects that resemble attentive, artistically-produced versions of zines.

I’ll be reading some of my poems at a show on March 7 and am hoping to have a chapbook for sale by that date. The goal is to produce a collection that is 75% chapbook and 25% zine, so all this block printing and paper-cropping has got me looking for inspiration.

In other news: are gallery blog posts obsolete since the rise of Pinterest? Probably, though I like a collection presented with meaningful thoughts or commentary.

(Click on the images to view the sources, with the exception of the top image which was featured on ModCloth.)


2012 in Books

Sadly, I didn’t reach my goal of reading fifty books in 2012. Though I started the year strong with a handful of reviews, summer turned tumultuous and I didn’t pick up any new books until early Winter.

Luckily, the 31 books I did read were a solid bunch. Early 2012 was filled with women writers, after which I slid into an David-Sedaris-on-audiobook phase. In Autumn I explored some anarchist theory and writings and the last month was almost totally consumed with fiction by Michael Ondaatje.

Despite not meeting my goal this year, I’m still going to attempt fifty books in 2013. No reason not to aim high, right?

P.S. If you’re on GoodReads, friend me!

Airport Writing

There are morning-and-caffeine writers, and there are nighttime-and-alcohol writers. You pick the time of day when your brain feels best, and pick the substance that brings it out.

I thought that was a quote from a writer, but I think I just wrote it in my journal once. Maybe I was inspired by an interview or article that gestured toward the distinction. This was during a phase where I found myself transitioning from a morning-and-caffeine writer to a nighttime-and-alcohol writer (a frightening change, for the record).

I do my best writing once or twice a year while flying. There is something about big, public space designed for transience; the intimacy of families or couples traveling together in massive crowds; the convergence of languages and accents.

Most likely, airports are just ideal spaces for people watching, which is the third most important writerly activity (the second most important is sitting and staring into space, and the first most important is writing/typing sentences). Everybody is too concerned with their own journey to look up, so a person with a long layover gets the best view—especially if you happen to be in the Charlotte airport, where the main terminal is lined with rocking chairs.

Review: Beautiful Trouble

It’s ambitious to try and turn the messy, irreverent accumulation of activists and organizers into a useful reference book, but I think Andrew Boyd has successfully assembled a “toolbox for revolution” which is, well, actually pretty useful.

Divided into Tactics, Principles, Theories, Case Studies and Practitioners, Beautiful Trouble ties community-organizing language about strategies and tactics to historical and contemporary examples. The Principles and Theories sections provide a conceptual framework. Readers who want more intellectual challenge may find the latter section sparse, but I suspect any more specificity would be divisive (along the lines of incendiary Facebook debates), rather than helpful.

Striking that balance is what makes Beautiful Trouble effective at pointing readers toward—at least more radical action, without demanding insurrection. This approach almost inevitably results in some watered-down language, but Beautiful Trouble does a good job avoiding that. Every article includes a sidebar with practitioners, epigraphs and further insights that refer to longer, more in-depth texts on the same subject. Or just new things to Google.

Beautiful Trouble claims solidarity, I think, with both mainstream-ish organizers and radicals/extremists, but is definitely directed towards the former readership. If the latter group had assembled this book, it wouldn’t be so readable or pragmatic. If the former had, it would be less cool. Thus the book’s wide range of liberal-to-radical content is impressive: from basics like Creative Petition Delivery and Blockade to creative actions like Public Filibuster and Electoral Guerrilla Theater, the collection pushes traditional notions of activism without awkwardly bumping up against “diversity of tactics.” A typical liberal may recognize contributor names on the cover like the Yes Men and Billionaires for Bush, but the guts of the book also nod to IWW, Earth First! and Otpor.

The real strength of Beautiful Trouble is its fastidious cross-referencing and organization—it’s as though a branch of inter-linked Wikipedia articles was cleaned up and printed. Even for someone flailing around in the world of guerrilla tactics and dancing on the line between art and direct action (i.e. me), the neatly interconnected content was both useful and grounding.

I have to admit that in one sense, the book’s overall cohesion—radical, nonviolent, creative, practical—doesn’t always jive with me. Feels restrained, maybe. In other words, I didn’t finish reading with an adrenaline rush, like I do with a punk zine or queer cultural theorists.  But in a wider context where this book is probably just picked up by a stranger, left on the shelf at libraries or shared in coffeeshops, it’s probably more important that Beautiful Trouble draws people in instead of piss them off; that it includes relevant materials instead of a tightly directed experience.

Hands down, the best part of the book is the fact that its creation was deeply intertwined with—even interrupted by—Occupy Wall Street last summer. For all the contributors, action took priority over deadlines. After police dismantled Occupy, at least the book that resulted is a damn good gateway drug for disillusioned liberals.

P.S. Much of the content in the book is available for free online—because why would you keep liberated knowledge locked up?

You might also be interested in: Designing for Social Change