Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Curious Rebinding

I borrowed a copy of Creative Power: The Education of Youth in the Creative Arts by Hughes Mearns from a far-flung library through my local library's "Link +" system and was distracted at first by its printing and binding. Published in 1929, it is of course printed via letterpress. 

The texture of the paper was warm in my hands.

This copy was rebound. Upon inspection, I noticed that the front cover must have fallen off. I'm guessing the sewing was still intact but loose, so the book block was reinforced: glued to an inner spine in a perfect bound manner. The back cover was possibly still attached as originally bound.

The front and back covers were still usable and needed to be connected. On the front cover, slices were made in the cloth at head and tail to accommodate the repairs. The cloth was peeled up there. A new spine piece was centered and covered with new black book cloth, wide flaps or turn ins were left on both sides to attach the spine to the covers.

The sliced front cover was also reinforced on the inside with linen binding tape.

The flaps/turn ins from the new book cloth were glued to the front cover, between the old cloth (where it was peeled up) and the old board, making it lumpy.

On the back, the new cloth sat on top of the old cloth and board, with the look of a half cloth binding. (The light blue paper is the Link + system's special lending band that tells me $1 per day late fee; Lost book charge is $115.)

The original spine title was glued back on.

Although the book is eighty-six years old, it is not valuable as a rare book, but the contents are worth the repair.

Although it is lumpy and inelegant, this rebinding preserves as much of the original book parts as possible. The only piece missing is the original spine.

 I think if this book belonged to me, I would trim out the title from the front cover and put it aside. Then I would use the boards (if they were smooth or could be sanded), or I would cut new boards and create a recess in the front board for the title. I'd also cut a new spine. I'd make a new full cloth covered case with black or dark blue book cloth, then glue the title into the front recess and glue the spine strip with the titling onto the spine. To the book block I'd add mull/super, reinforce the book block spine with mulberry paper, add new endpapers and case the book block in. 

Different people have different methods for restoring and/or repairing books. For some creative rebindings, see the work of the artists who work as "Tomorrow's Past."

Friday, July 24, 2015

Favorite Childhood Poem Finally Found

Maybe it took a while for the internet to catch up with my desire. Or, maybe at some point, I stopped looking. A poem was read to me when I was a child, and it was my favorite. Silly, mysterious, it had what I wanted to hear. I thought, perhaps it was by John Ciardi. And stubbornly, I kept looking in his books and not finding it. Quite by chance, I stumbled over the answer in a newspaper article about a new novel called I Saw a Man. The title lifts a line from the poem, which I hadn't recognized until the reviewer quoted it. I always thought of the poem as "I Met A Man" (which is the title of a fun John Ciardi book of children's poems, I Met a Man ).

The poem is actually called "Antigonish," and it is by Hughes Mearns (1875-1965). Although it was composed in 1899, it wasn't published under this title until 1922. Because it is in the public domain, I (and you) can reprint it here (and elsewhere).

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn't there
He wasn't there again today
I wish, I wish he'd go away…

When I came home last night at three
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall
I couldn't see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don't you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don't slam the door…(slam!)

Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn't there
He wasn't there again today
Oh, how I wish he'd go away…

The internet informs us that this poem has been quoted many times, used in film, books, and television, was a hit 1930s song "The Little Man That Wasn't There," and that a Christian heavy metal band made a version. There are many parodies as well. The source of inspiration, apparently: a ghost haunting a staircase in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada.

As a bonus, I was delighted to discover that Hughes Mearns was also an educator, primarily interested in creativity in children. Among other, similar books, he wrote Creative Power: The Education of Youth in the Creative Arts, which is about helping each child in a classroom find their way to being creative, and to find his or her own native (not imitated) voice, particularly through poetry, but applicable to all the creative arts. Although it was published in 1929, it is a strangely timeless book today, eighty-six years later. The writing is lively and passionate and filled with love and humor. While I don't always expect to like the creator of my favorite works, I expect I would have liked Hughes Mearns.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Photographing Books for Submission to Shows

While preparing all the materials that were included in my instructional books, I had the good fortune of being present when the professional photographers, first Jim Hair, later Sibila Savage, were taking pictures of my books. They each let me look through the viewfinder before the book was shot, pointing out what seemed to work, what parts I might move. So, I've looked through their eyes, in a way, thousands of times. What I wanted, primarily, was clarity. That the books, which are so hard to capture in two-dimensions anyway, could be somewhat understood. That you could see how they were put together. And that their spirit was somehow captured. Eventually, I got into the habit of taking preliminary photos so I could show Sibila the type of photo I was after and so she could take them faster. Hers were always better, of course!

Recently, I was asked to review some submissions for a show in order to choose the works accepted. The quality of the photos was all over the place, from poorly lit and upside down to professionally taken. I tried to overlook the presentation and focus on the books themselves, but the photos were all I had. It occurred to me that maybe some people have not been told how their works would be seen.

So, here is a DIY example of how you might take photographs of your books, working only with a thick piece of white paper, a window, and a digital camera (in this case, an iPhone 6).

My book, Words Collide poses some problems, and I have to decide what is most important to show. There are many possibilities. If you have to choose one, two, or three shots, you have to first decide what the priorities are. Let's say I can only use three. (For Etsy, you can use up to five.) In this case, I want to show the structure and spine, that it expands, and that it comes in a slipcase.

First, the setup. I curve a piece of heavy white paper (in this case Stonehenge, a printmaking paper) against a wall down onto the floor. I'll shoot lying on the carpet, but I have another setup elsewhere in the house where I can use the wall and a table. The window is on the right. The day is bright, the light somewhat diffused by fog. Perfect!

1. Here's a shot straight on. You can see the folds,
but you can't see the overall structure.
Shadows are okay here, I think, they show the book is sitting on something.

2. Slightly from above. Structure is very clear.
The light changed a bit, but could be improved in an editing program.
It is possible that my shadow is creeping in from below.
I might want to re-shoot, making sure the book is parallel to the 
top and bottom of the frame.

3. Front and back (using two copies).
You can see the structure clearly as well,
but someone might think these were two different books.

4. Looking at how the book expands.
Pretty clear. Also slightly from above.
I might want to reshoot, straightening out the book.

5. Okay, so I'm thinking I'll show it both closed and open.
In this case, look at the book at the bottom.
It shows the structure, but it also looks like a trapezoid.
When photographing books with straight edges that are square or rectangular
you want to line up head or tail and one edge parallel with the frame.

6. Here, the bottom book looks more square, 
but you don't get the fishbone top. The change?
A little prop under the bottom book.
Too many extra shadows from me.
The sun is coming out!

Sibila showed me how to crumple a piece of paper, use an eraser,
a little object, whatever works to prop the book.
This is a little blue piece of paper.

7. The book alone, propped.
Still can't see the structure.
Shadows are just too much here and are somewhat confusing.

8. Trying to show the slipcase by using two books.
Might be confusing to a first-time viewer since
the slipcase has a window that is blocked by the book in it.
Again, shot propped, shadows are too overwhelming.

9. Standing up, this works much better, the lighting quite nice.
Can't see the fishbone, but might be okay.

10. Standing, up, fishbone visible, but my shadow creeping in again.
Maybe too much information in this shot.

11. One slipcase, one book. Could work. Needs to be cropped.

11a. This might work. It shows the slipcase, the shine of the window,
the book. The black slipcase may read as flat, however. I'm not sure.

12. Slipcase and book are flat.
Bad hair day. They look lifeless.

13. Could be dynamic, the book slipping in.
But probably should have taking it with the book slipping out instead.

14. Top view shows the structure better. Lots of edge shadows. Let's crop.

14a. Possible. When I crop, I always leave a little more space at the bottom
so it doesn't look like the book is falling out of the frame.

These are just a few ways to show the book. If I could submit only three photos, I'd probably show 2, 4, and 9. It's a hard call.

Now that I know what position I want them, I might re-shoot to get the lighting the best it can be and without any extra shadows.

Instead of this last photo, though, I might take another shot of just the book all the way in the slipcase, or I could crop the one I took. The only issue is the shadow from the book on the right. A retake would be better, if I decide that's the right position. Here's the crop.

In summary: 
  1. Decide what information is important to include (structure, variations, colors, functions, words, interactivity, etc.).
  2. Choose a space to work that is near natural light, preferably diffused light. 
  3. Shoot some trial set-ups, arranging in every conceivable configuration.
  4. When photographing, make sure the book looks true to its shape and parallel to the picture frame if you can.
  5. Reshoot the ones that feel right in order to perfect the lighting, if necessary.
Whenever possible, though, get a professional photographer to shoot your work. If you are submitting to an important show, your book is expensive, there is only one book, you can only show one photo, or it is going to go in a professional portfolio or catalogue or book, pay a professional to light it, arrange it, and make it look its best. These glamour shots are worth it. But for some circumstances, low-tech, DIY abilities work just fine.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Remedy for a Poet's Anxiety

I often feel worried when I am not writing that maybe I have nothing left to say.  Or that I'm disguising leftovers again. But I was heartened, recently, reading On Elizabeth Bishop (Writers on Writers) by Colm Tóibín. For one thing, the book is a lovely, warm look at her life and work and how she inspired him. For another, I discovered that Bishop, and Robert Lowell, Marianne Moore, and their friends passed around their poems, their themes, rewrote each other's work, and that Lowell, particularly, incorporated quotes from his friends' and family's letters into his poems. If that's not recycling, well, I'll reheat my hat.

When I told someone I was reading it, a friend asked, "But what are you reading for fun?" Ah, well, fun is where you find it. That book took me back to Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose and Letters (Library of America), where I could examine and enjoy the poems mentioned anew. It didn't exactly prompt a poem from me, but I did feel somewhat enlightened after. I was reassured that we write and keep writing about what is familiar to us, and that it's perfectly fine to do so.

Last Saturday, on my weekly library visit, I scanned the shelves of new books, searching for poetry. I had read about James Tate, whose obituary just appeared, and who sounded like my kind of poet: "I like to start with the ordinary and then nudge it"; and about Simon Armitage (alive): "the coming together of apparently incongruous concepts," but their books were not there. Ultimately, I had to reserve them (although I did get Armitage's nonfiction prose, Walking Home: A Poet's Journey). One poetry book on the new shelf was faced out. Called Map: Collected and Last Poems, it was by Polish writer Wisława Szymborska who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996. I did not know that. I opened the book.

The poems are translated, and I would guess expertly because they sang beautifully. Here's a line for thought from her poem, "Writing A Résumé": "Regardless of the length of life, / a résumé is best kept short." Best of all, she inspired me to write. I wrote five poems that day. I think they are good. But I always think whatever I just wrote is good. (I will have to wait a few weeks until the happy mist clears to see if they hold up.) Szymborska pointed me back to my own voice, my own experiences, and asked me to pin them up and take a look.

Which says to me, and I pass along this well-known secret: keep reading. Be hungry. Be curious. Find the poets that make you put down their books because you suddenly have an idea you must write yourself. Szymborska just did that for me. And I am grateful.

Detail from "Curiosity Boxes": Colors of Independence, 2012

Five Wisława Szymborska poems on the Nobel Prize website: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1996/szymborska-poetry.html
"The End and the Beginning" on the Poetry Foundation website: