Tuesday, February 24, 2015

More Painted Paper and Circle Accordion

The circle accordion is my go-to book structure. Last weekend, having freed up some time, finished up some obligations, I thought I would dive into the next big thing or rework the old thing. Except I really didn't have the energy to rev myself up. I knew that painting paper would relax me, and I had written a poem recently that I could think about while I painted. Of course, my vision changed completely once it became ink and water on the page, but just committing to the idea got the project going.

I began by making two brushstrokes/puddles of clean water, then added ink and salt and water spray much like I did here, but constrained this time to the puddles. (You can see the technique, "Wet-on-Wet" in Painted Paper: Techniques & Projects for Handmade Books & Cards on page 37.)

After letting it dry, I painted around it. Went back in with acrylic gesso, scratched into it ("Gesso and Sgraffito," page 67), and highlighted certain edges with the gesso. It certainly wasn't a painting of clouds anymore; it looked more like plants.

I cut the painting into strips, then folded them for the Circle Accordion (page 119 in Making Handmade Books: 100+ Bindings, Structures & Forms and page 126 in Painted Paper). I attached the strips with self-adhesive linen tape, and wrote the text with a pen dipped in black acrylic ink. The pages tend to become more interesting when certain colors or different elements appear. It is much easier to paint when you know it will be cut up. You can even plan for it.

Friday, February 20, 2015

What I Bought at Codex Book Fair 2015

The Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, CA is a huge, high-ceilinged, room with nearly floor-to ceiling windows on two sides and skylights. It is bright in there, and when the sun shines at a certain angle, everybody sweats, so vendors brings umbrellas and fans and changes of clothes if they can. The pavilion sits on the edge of the bay. Sailboats pass the window as if they were being pulled on a string. This was the fifth year, fourth year I attended, but second year at this venue for the Codex Book Fair, having outgrown Pauley Ballroom at UC Berkeley in 2011.

My yellow highlighter and I diligently looked over the list of 195 vendors, but when I entered the building at opening on Monday at 12:30 P.M., the list went into my bag, and I wandered from shiny object to familiar face until I checked and found it was four o'clock. I brought my CCA Bookworks class there for a field trip on Tuesday, just a taste for them—we had to leave after two hours so they could get back for their next classes.

I wrote a post about the last Codex in 2013 here. And you can see pictures there, too. This time, I found some little treasures again. Another brilliant work from Bryan Kring. This one called The Hunter & The Bear, made for the Small Plates Editions at San Francisco Center for the Book. He also had a new book with a little mythical caterpillar that crept along as you turned a crank.

A sweet bee book Honey B Hive from Jessica Spring of Springtide Press. The covers are black velour and as you pull them apart, the honeycomb shape springs into place.

A facsimile of a beautiful notebook by Taiwanese artist Liuying Chieh. The drawings are terrific, plus washi tape looks great reproduced.

A booklet made from offcuts of a monumental book Of Physical Lines and shaped into a lovely and worthy booklet all its own called Of Lines by Sara Langworthy

And another wordless, illustrated accordion sold by Al Manar by Diane de Bournazel called Planetarium. Her drawings are so friendly. Yes, she cut out all the little shapes by hand. A second book of hers was also tempting; that one had tiny pop-ups.

At the fair itself, however, this is the only photo I took.

Because of the shoes on the man in the center.

Monday, February 16, 2015


Several years ago, Bonnie Thompson Norman excitedly sent me a book she had made and designed. I included the instructions for it, which I sometimes refer to as "Bonnie's Ladder" (featured as Woven Accordion), in Making Handmade Books. Her original has eight panels. It is a little stiffer to work than the wooden child's toy, but interesting all the same. Ed Hutchins had used this structure previously, but Bonnie hadn't seen it. A year or two later she sent me one with four panels. Having just made seven of the latter as valentines, I see the two-panel version now as a "flexaccordion," a cross between a regular accordion fold and a flexagon. Instructions for the eight-panel version are on pages 135-136 in Making Handmade Books.

I cut my own stencils from frosted Mylar. Instructions for stencil-making may be found in Painted Paper on pages 70-77. I found that the small flat brush worked well for the smaller, more detailed stencils, the stencil brush was best for large areas of color (acrylic paint and gesso). Shown also are some metal French alphabet stencils, which are very nice to use and washable. I like the crow quill pen dipped in FW acrylic ink for hand lettering.

Front cover: white gesso and gold gesso

First opening: cards with rounded corners
"I / flip"

Flex the book and find the second opening
by pushing the valley folds together with your fingers
and pulling the center apart with your thumbs
"4 / U"

Back view

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Dictionary Valentine for You

love (luv) n. 1. A deep, tender, 
ineffable feeling of affection and 
solicitude toward a person, such as that 
arising from kinship, recognition of 
attractive qualities, or a sense of 
underlying oneness. 2. A feeling of 
intense desire and attraction toward a 
person with whom one is disposed to 
make a pair; the emotion of sex and 
romance. 3a. Sexual passion. b. Sexual 
intercourse. c. A love affair. 4. An 
intense emotional attachment as for a 
pet or treasured object. 5. A person 
who is the object of deep or intense 
affection or attraction; beloved. Often 
used as a term of endearment. 6. An 
expression of one’s affection: Send him 
my love. 7a. A strong predilection or 
enthusiasm: a love of language. b. 
The object of such an enthusiasm: The 
outdoors is her greatest love. 8. Love 
Mythology Eros or Cupid. 9. often 
Love Christianity Charity. 10. Sports
zero score in tennis.

gleaned from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (fourth edition)

Happy Valentine's Day!

ongoing project of my 26 alphabetical dictionary poems at The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts here.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Musing on Poetry: Can a Computer Write Art?

An article, "The Poem that Passed the Turing Test" popped up recently online about a young man who modified a computer program to write poetry. He submitted a suite of poems to The Archive, Duke University's undergraduate magazine, which was founded in 1887, and one poem "For the Bristlecone Snag" was accepted and published in the Fall of 2011. Feeling curious, wary, and a tad defensive, I read the poem. It was awful. To be fair, I looked at every line and at the poem as a whole to see if any juxtaposition, any metaphor, any rhythm could redeem it. The first line seems promising, "A home transformed by lightning." If the student, Zackary Scholl, who published the poem under his own name without any editing or additions, had simply taken that first line and run with it himself, it might have had more character. But the third line, "this insatiable earth of a planet, Earth" is just clunky, as is the rest of the poem. "They attacked it with mechanical horns" brings up an intriguing image, but it dissolves into more strange repetition and cliché: "because they love you, love, in fire and wind." To me, this poem, written by a computer, screams "rewrite!"

What's missing? I remembered seeing the first poem written by a computer in a book published in 1984 called The Policeman's Beard Is Half-Constructed. A search yielded an online transcript, and the fact that you can still purchase a used copy for very little money. Racter, the author, a computer program designed by Bill Chamberlain, was actually very sophisticated; it included rules of syntax, grammar, and the ability to maintain "a thread of what might initially pass for coherent thinking."

An excerpt of phrases I find delightful:

More than iron, more than lead, more than gold I need electricity.
I need it more than I need lamb or pork or lettuce or cucumber.
I need it for my dreams.

The shift from the valuable minerals to a force to food to dreams is fun.

Slide and tumble and fall among
The dead. Here and there
Will be found a utensil.

The words "The dead" seem abstract, but when "utensil" is added we are suddenly grounded in death as an everyday, quotidian occurrence. A couple lines more absurd and less successful:

Enthralling surgeons will dance quickly with tripping
stenographers. They will sing and chant of their passion
and their love and their desire. They will yodel their
dreams of stenographers who will answer and respond:
"We ponder that hedges are like bushes."

It's a mixed collection of poetry and prose and a whole host of limericks you can read at the link, above, which are all labeled, "Work of stupefying genius number:…" There is much amusement and play at work in these. Interesting that the word "dream" appears frequently; I'm guessing this is on purpose, to try to get the reader to identify with the works. The writing is accompanied by collages made from a combination of old engravings and computer-generated graphs and lines. The choice of collage seems fitting as both the writing and art are made of pieces creating a whole, also this type of artwork was popular in the 1980s. Someone has posted a few pictures of the pages here.

What is the difference between one program and the other? Scholl wrote that his program could "create poetry indistinguishable from real poets," which seems astonishingly brash until you realize that he wrote "real poets" not "humans" or "good poets." Bill Chamberlain's motivation was curiosity, the thought that computer-generated writing "can be fascinating, humorous, even aesthetically pleasing," and he wondered what would happen if you removed the "human experience" from the writing. The core of one appears to be an attempt to imitate a human activity, the core of the other, a deeper investigation into what makes it a human or non-human activity. Chamberlain's project contains almost enough rules to shape the writing humanly before it is even written. In the article, Scholl admits his program is simple. I think it is too simple to be more than a hack: a kind of clever joke.

In 1999, an eight-year-old girl brought me a printout. "How did you make this?" I asked. She had typed a string of letters with random spaces between, then hit "spell check," which, at that time, meant that a list of words would pop up and the writer would choose the right one. In this case, she chose what she felt was the best one. It's rather a shame that we have auto-correct these days. We probably wouldn't have gotten this (excerpt):

…daises ate
the number  eight vibration and the duck and the
cats fade into the shade young dogs sniff the  iris by
the moon light the sun is fading away unselfish
flywheels pod;for ever flu oh hug edge ah juice! jar
hedge quirk rye whey

I've always loved the sound and rhythm of, "Oh hug edge ah juice! jar hedge quirk rye whey." Here is another Spell Check Poem, in entirety, solicited and published in Amphibian , a short-lived, letterpress printed 'zine by Leif Fairfield ('zine mentioned in Fingerprint: The Art of Using Hand-Made Elements in Graphic Design).

TV true
but Utah Joe you 
Mom of by jug 
or Hawaiian ugh!
this unusual jug 
Tao tardy
  us you try 
unite turn turn earn guy?
  Utah us ray 
rut us, us you earn.
does Joe’s tire grow?
we go to Minneapolis.

The computer suggested the words, but the girl wrote the poem. This time it is quite absurd and funny, particularly the last line wrapping it up. Still, a great sense of sound. She doesn't write Spell Check Poems anymore. She writes music.

The night after I read the article about Scholl, I woke at 2 A.M., wide awake, and reached for Bender: New and Selected Poems a 2012 book of poems by Dean Young that I've been reading in the middle of the night on my iPad for a couple years. I wondered what it was about his poems that made them so much better than anything written by a computer. A few days later, I had to get the paper book from the library so I could see where Young intended the lines to break (not something completely clear in the ebook version when you change the font or size). I've mentioned Dean Young before here, and here, and here.

From "Side Effects" (p. 204, first hardcover printing)

…snow approaches
the house and turns back, forgetting why it came.

Young puts the reader inside the imagery. The  snow is anthropomorphized: a human inside, or easily projected onto. A snow forgetting, turning back like sheets on a bed revealing sleeping people, however deep you want to imagine.

From "So the Grasses Grow" (206)

I looked down the road
where someone was buying shoes.
Is it possible to choose a pair
solely by the prints they'll leave
in the dust and snow?

In these lines he makes you think about shoes in quite a different way. The reader thinks about the marks made in life, temporary, but hoping for some kind of permanence. The use of the word "solely," referring to shoes, is a subtle wink, not an oversized pun-gesture.

From "The Rhythms Pronounce Themselves Then Vanish" (185)

The typical lightning bolt
is one inch wide and five miles long.

This one factual statement has an emotional impact at the end of this poem as you imagine something so thin and bright and sharp but nearly unending. And one more I love:

From "Selected Recent and New Errors" (199)

Do you think the dictionary ever says to itself
I've go these words that mean completely
different things inside myself
and it's tearing me apart?

In short, they are delightful and insightful, projecting human feeling onto objects or injecting the reader's empathy into them. I've chosen examples that grabbed me, and most are humorous as well as human. Overall, Young's poems seem dreamlike, random like the computer-generated ones, yet in his work, each poem circles around a solid, chewy, emotional center. Every time you think he's thrown a ball for you to fetch and you're sure it's gone, the elastic snaps back and you understand the connection again and it's good. Occasionally, he loses me, leaves me behind at the rest stop and forgets to come back. I wander around wondering which snack to pick but lose interest, not hungry, and turn the page. See, he's even had an influence on my prose. The unshaped computer poems don't do that.

The computer poems, particularly Scholl's version, produce not a fire, but a picture of a fire; the reader can imagine whatever fire they have previously experienced, but the fire on the page provides no real warmth. If there is no intention or message behind it, it is just a little mirror, a straight reflection, undigested, disconnected: not poetry, not art.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Book Art from Alisa Golden Now Available on Etsy

I'm very excited about doing a trial run and posting some of my book art and a subscription to  Star 82 Review on Etsy under the store name nevermindtheart. I'm happy to report that credit cards are accepted there.

If there is something you see on my never mind the press website and are interested in purchasing, please drop me a line, and I'll put up a page for it on Etsy.

Currently, at nevermindtheart I'm offering

Words Collide (see the blog post about it here)
Silver Every Day 
Start with Pencil
Night Monster
—Four copies (your choice) of Star 82 Review

Happy Browsing!