A personal reflection by Phoenicia publisher Elizabeth Adams, who is also a writer and an artist
What I have realized in the past few years is that, while socio-political issues matter tremendously to me, and I think that political activism is terribly important, for me, at this point, too much immersion in politics kills my creativity. It's pretty much either/or. The energy that it takes for me to be committed and active in politics makes it almost impossible for me to do art or music or write at the level I want to.
It's impossible to keep one's involvement on the level of the issues alone. The negativity, polarization, and rhetoric surrounding political action in the U.S., especially since 9/11, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, made me feel helpless after a while. It was possible to help break down barriers about homosexuality and religion,and I'm very glad I was involved in that struggle. It was possible to help dismantle some stereotypes about the Middle East, about Islam, about an inevitable "clash of civilizations" -- but only very slowly, and on a local level, almost person-to-person. The struggle against the power of money and corporations and the military, the choice to locate and exhaust the planet's fossil fuels while destroying the entire ecosystem -- I'm not sure fighting these battles is possible anymore through the system itself; maybe only a collapse will cause wholesale change. When it comes to matters of war, peace, and the power of the strong over the weak, we have learned very little over the millenia.
I was involved very intentionally for a long while; it changed me for the better, and I know my efforts did some good. But I knew that eventually I'd have to make some decisions about what I wanted to do with my remaining time -- time that seems to feel ever shorter and more precious.
My mother wanted me to go into politics. It wouldn't have been a bad fit, in some ways, and I was invited once to run for the Vermont legislature -- but I said no. We each have to look at our own gifts and what we're passionate about, as well as where our lives have led us, and what possibilities are open to us at a particular time - and make the most of them. If we don't do that, we may have to live with big regrets. And we also have to ask: where can I make the most difference? For me, the greatest passion has always been for the arts. I've been fortunate to be able to spend most of my professional career as a graphic designer, a field closely related to the fine arts, and now to have some additional time to devote to work other than the kind that pays the bills.
But the decision to focus on art and on writing -- both my own and other people's -- and to try to minimize the many distracting, conflicting, enticing calls for involvement in other pursuits and other projects -- comes at a time when it's particularly hard to be an artist or a writer, let alone a publisher. There's a lot of discouragement around, and many obstacles which have never been quite so daunting: economic, governmental, social and cultural changes are all contributing, and these combine with and magnify the personal challenges that have always existed for people who live creative lives.
A guest blog post by Marly Youmans, whose epic poem Thaliad will be published here in November. The painting of fairies dancing, above, is by William Blake.
Fairy glamour is the name for the magic that can turn ashes and dead leaves into enticing fruit and sparkling wine--that can metamorphose cruelty or vapidness into a lovely face of beauty. But when you eat that fruit and drink that wine in Faerie, you are still consuming ash and dead leaf. And you can never go back to the world of sun-ripened fruit and wine pressed from grapes. You may live in seeming pleasure and yet become the one that the Queen of the fairies pays as a tithe to hell. When you ride there, if you are very, very lucky--vanishingly lucky--some strong mortal will catch you up and hold on until the Queen loses her power over you, though in the end you may find the hair in your comb as fine as cobwebs and your limbs withered.
Perhaps it is that the internet often shows us more than we need to see, perhaps it is that the Western world has changed greatly in my lifetime, but it seems to me that our culture is more and more sprinkled with fairy dust and subject to the power of glamour. What is this world where a book like 50 Shades of Grey
, a fanfiction story written to mimic the Twilight
series, can be irresistible to so many--where people run to pay their gold for ashes and dead leaves?
When we pay such gold, we transform our culture, little by little. We say by our actions that this
is what we think is worth our love and precious time and coin. Publishers, bookstores, galleries, and other guardians of culture respond to such actions. After all, such actions say that this
is where we want our culture to go, in this
direction. We ash-eaters may laugh and say we are not serious, or we may mock and say that our mocking is all hilarity. Either way, we are eating the food of Faerie and supporting its dominion.
More than that, we are not paying our coin and eating the golden, sun-fed apples of this world, more beautiful than any glamoured ash. We are not transformed for the better; are not growing the soul and becoming larger on the inside. We are not marrying ourselves to true things but burying ourselves in a fairy mound. And we are not striving to support and build a new golden age of culture but are seeking after a world of tin.
A little world of beauty and truth flickers and struggles to catch light within the larger one. Anyone can blow on that flame, but few do.
* * *
In the interest of being understood, I may need to say that I love fairy tales and fantastic realms, and that I am using Faerie and its witchery of glamour as a metaphor in the post just above.
For the next day only, we're offering an ultra-special price on the beautiful hardcover edition of Dick Jones' "Ancient Lights." Usually priced at $26.00, the book is available until midnight on Friday, July 27, 2012, for only $20.80 plus shipping. The limited-edition hardcover has a full-color laminated dust jacket with printed end-flaps, a foil-stamped cloth cover, and a sewn binding.This offer is only available through our online store
. Order here
, using the drop-down menu for the Hardcover Edition."The book is beautifully produced & presented, right down to such details as paper quality, book size, the horizontal line above the page number, and the way the poems are given plenty of space in which to ‘breathe’. In all a fine object to have and to hold. Congratulations to all concerned! You’re showing the much-vaunted London publishers (here in Great Britain) the proverbial clean pair of heels." -- Wes Magee
In September, we'll be publishing a wonderful book of surrealistic prose poems, titled Angels & Beasts
, by the Romanian-American poet Claudia Serea
. Claudia was born in Romania under the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, who was overthrown in 1989. She immigrated to the U.S. in 1995. The poems in Angels&Beasts
are in three sections, drawn from her early childhood, the post-totalitarian period, and her first years in New York. Claudia is also a translator.
Together with Paul Doru Mugur and Adam J. Sorkin, she recently co-edited and co-translated The Vanishing Point That Whistles, an Anthology of Contemporary Romanian Poetry (Talisman House, 2011)
What's unique about modern Romanian poetry? Writing about the above anthology, one of the best-known contemporary Romanian poets, Andrei Codrescu, said:
We couldn't agree more. Readers are in for a remarkable experience in September, when Angels&Beasts is published here.
- “Waking up from a familiar nightmare into an unknown reality is not for the faint‐ hearted. More than two decades after the world and the poetry that buzzed in it shattered, Romanian poets are putting on lab coats, turning on recording devices, scouring the web they broadcast on, photoshopping bits and pieces of shards and routine, and questioning the tragic undertone of the hardwired lament in a culture that questions itself incessantly. Anyone able to hear the sound this poetry makes will be rewarded with a sharpening of their own tools of perception.”
In the coming weeks, we'll give you a few glimpses into the surrealistic world of Claudia Serea.
Books may have been thought to be dangerous in the past, but it was a matter of having your mom find the steamy novel under your bed, or having to read subversive titles in secret. The reader was still in charge, and the book was an object, even if that object was a symbol of something else. Now, we learn, our e-readers are anything but passive objects. Like the eye behind a hidden two-way mirror, they're looking back at us, and passing along what they learn to a higher authority. (Imagine if Lady Chatterly's Lover or Das Kapital had been able to do that?
) But, in true 21st -century form, political and moral snooping are taking a back seat to the real payoff: how to maximize profits from selling books. An article in the July 4th issue of the Guardian, "Big E-reader is Watching You," tells the details of the types of information being collected:"With digital content we have the ability all of a sudden to glean new insights into our customers," says Todd Humphrey, Kobo's executive vice president of business development. "How often do they pick up and engage with a book? What's the average time when they start to read? How many pages do they read an hour? How long does it take to read a book? And through bookmarking, people tell us where they stop. If we were to dive into that reader space, we could see they picked up a book, read the first five pages in five hours, then never picked up and engaged with the book again. What does that say, if 90% of readers stop after chapter five? It certainly provides insight for the publisher and the author."
Yes, no doubt it does. And that's what I find the scariest of all, because of its implications not just for book publishing in general, but for literature. We live in a society where budgets are increasingly determined through quantitative, not qualitative, measures. Teachers are judged by their students' scores on standardized tests; even university courses sink or swim on the bottom line: how much income they generate for the institution. The resources available for artistic endeavors of all types are dwindling, along with the energy of those who are willing to champion excellent work which may appeal to a small market. But if that's not bad enough,
now, for the first time, we have the spectre of quantitative information being used by publishers to influence not only what
is written, but how
it's written. In genre fiction, perhaps, this isn't so outlandish as it sounds. Here's British fantasy/sci-fi writer China Mieville:"I hope it wouldn't change how I wrote, but conversely I do wonder if getting specifically worked up about this is simply a kind of neophobia, because if it did change how you wrote, wouldn't it just be a new variant of what authors have done for centuries, which is writing to a market?" he says. "In other words, that writing to algorithm, while I'm certainly no fan, is just writing to what one believes readers want – no more or less infra dig than writing in response to demands from the marketing department, or in response to one's analysis on perusing the bestseller list, or trying to second-guess what makes a best seller. A bit more micro-level in its analysis, but not qualitatively 'worse' or 'better'."
Reader privacy is another major issue. And while e-book manufacturers like Kobo say they will only use and pass along (read: sell) information to publishers that has been aggregated -- not individual statistics - do you really want your e-book reading habits used in this way? Or has social media altered our view of privacy so much that we can accept that even reading a book is no longer a private act?"If they don't bookmark, and they're not online when they're reading, and they're not taking notes, we're not going to glean much information except for the purchase itself," Humphrey says.
But, he readily admits, they want more. The knowledge of where people stop reading, or how particular books are read, "could eventually affect what's published.""You can understand what books are selling, where in the world, how fast people are reading them, how long it takes them to finish, where they accelerate or decelerate through a book – all of that at the end provides the publisher with pretty interesting insights to work with the author, on the style of the book and the story, and from a publishing perspective how to market based on where it is selling. At the end of the day, it does allow publishers more information than they would have if they just put the book on a shelf," he says. "It is going to be interesting to watch how it evolves over time. It is more power to the people who are essentially telling publishers and authors what it is they want to read."Books as reader-driven commodity? We're already almost there
. So what's the implication for literature? I predict that here, as in all the arts, a small sub-group of writers and publishers will emerge, largely separate from what's going on in the big-business side of publishing, and continue to create and make available works of enduring quality, for a smaller group of readers. But to preserve that level of care for the written word in human culture will take a level of selflessness, ingenuity, and determination we've only seen before when culture is threatened by totalitarianism, war, and extreme poverty.In the long run,
I fervently hope that Darwinian capitalism will run its course and that a more benevolent and humane world society will emerge. That long run may be very long indeed, and if human society does indeed survive, the process is going to be ugly, threatening, and at times truly dangerous to our bodies and particularly to our spirits.
Books have always been a symbol of human freedom. What we do with them is always
significant. Are we prepared for the next phase in our relationship, and for what it's going to take to preserve not only the very best writing, but those who write it?
We just finished printing and binding a number of pre-publication review copies of Marly Youmans' epic poem Thaliad
. It was so nice to see the Marly's words, Clive Hicks-Jenkins' illustrations and Elizabeth Adams' design working together on printed pages -- rather than the computer screen -- that we wanted to give you a peek inside too. Thaliad
is scheduled for release in early November.For a more intimate look at the process
and a few more photos, please visit the editor's personal blog, The Cassandra Pages
Right now, the cover of Thaliad
, Marly Youmans' book-length, narrative poem, is beginning to take shape through the mind, eye, and hands of the extraordinary Welsh artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins, who generously agreed to take on this project. In a series of posts on his own Artlog, Clive describes and illustrates the process of envisioning and creating the cover art,
and I wanted to share this very exciting process with you as it unfolds.
Clive writes:"Marly Youman’s epic poem Thaliad, is to be published later this year by Phoenicia Publishing, Montreal. It is a work of staggering beauty and imagination, and I’m enormously proud to have been asked by the author and her publisher, Elizabeth Adams, to create the image that will speak for it on the cover.
"Stay posted for updates!In other news, all of our titles
are now available through Amazon.uk and Amazon Europe, so European readers can easily order books without prohibitive international shipping charges. Just search for the desired title on your country's Amazon site.There are also e-book editions, for Kindle and iPad/epub readers
, of Dick Jones Ancient Lights
, Dave Bonta's Odes to Tools
, and Ken Pobo's Ice and Gaywings
available directly through Phoenicia Publishing.
"Reading Dick Jones’s poetry is like being in the embrace of an expert dancer – it is lively, sinuous and spilling with joy and passion. In language assured and richly musical, taut with vivid imagery, we are shown the world in a new and brilliant light.
Simon Fraser University, British Columbia; author of Prime, The Aviary,
and HarbourAncient Lights is now available through our e-store, through Amazon.com, Amazon.UK, and Amazon Europe, as well as in e-book editions for Kindle, iPad and other readers.
We're happy to let our European readers know that Dick Jones' Ancient Lights
, and Ren Powell's Mercy Island
are now available for direct order through Amazon.uk and Amazon Europe. The books are printed in Europe and available for super-saver shipping, and rapid delivery, at the same low price you'd pay in the U.S but without prohibitive international shipping costs.
Other Phoenicia titles will be available for direct UK and European order in the next few days; we'll let you know when they're all online. It's a great new development and we're very happy to be able to offer this convenience to our customers!