We're proud to unveil our new website today, and hope you'll find it, as we do, a definite upgrade in both looks and usability.
CATALOG: Click on any book in the home page catalog to go to its full description, and ordering information.
BLOG: There's a blog where we'll be posting news, reviews, awards, and commentary, as well as the occasional essay, interview, or guest article about publishing and its future; writing and editing; and books in general.
GUIDELINES AND SUBMISSIONS: Please take a look at the Pages listed in the navigation bar at the top, and note that there is a Submissions page now and a revised "About Us"; together these two pages should give prospective authors a sense of what Phoenicia is looking for, and how to approach us if you're interested in sending a manuscript.
And please let us know what you think. Your suggestions and comments are always welcome!
Qarrtsiluni managing Editors Dave Bonta and Beth Adams have submitted six nominations for the 2010 Pushcart Prizes. While most of these fine poems will appear in subsequent print editions published by Phoenicia, Clayton Michaels' "Tantric" is from his chapbook, Watermark, currently available here!
As we often say, we have a love/hate affair with contests and awards. It's great to be able to nominate our authors, and even more wonderful when they win, but we see so much work that is deserving of greater recognition, so it's very hard to choose only a few pieces to single out. Our goal is to congratulate and encourage all writers -- but today, to give a special tip of the hat to these fine poets and their work, and to the qarrtsiluni guest editors who chose some of these poems for their issues.
“24” by Barbara Young (New Classics issue)
“Tantric” by Clayton Michaels (Watermark)
“Relics” by Sherry Chandler (Health issue)
“Sea of Stars” by Dick Jones (The Crowd issue)
“So soft his neck, so distant from the thought of stone” by Jee Leong Koh (New Classics issue)
“Apart” by Aline Soules (Chapbook Finalists 2010; originally published in The Houston Literary Review, May 2009)
We were pleased to learn that Kristen McHenry, an excellent poet herself and one of last year's runners-up in the qarrtsiluni chapbook contest, has written a review of Clayton Michaels' "Watermark."
These poems never explain themselves, instead allowing space for the reader to wander at leisure, viewing them through their own lens, invited into the memories of sound and image. Michaels quirky, yet personable voice makes “Watermark” a strong addition to any poetry collection.
Kristen's chapbook from last year, The Goatfish Alphabet, has been published by Naissance and I'm happy to recommend it to readers; I bought a copy myself and have enjoyed every poem in her strong collection.
An "Ode" at Verse Daily: One of Dave Bonta's poems from his Odes to Tools chapbook is today's selection by the editors at Verse Daily. Congratulations, Dave! The poem chosen is "Ode to a Wire Brush," one of our favorites.Congratulations, Dave! The poem chosen is "Ode to a Wire Brush," one of our favorites.
Phoenicia Publishing supports its authors by sending out review copies to the most appropriate online and print anthologies and publications. We're delighted that the editors at Verse Daily recognized the wide appeal of Dave's work, and welcome any readers of that publication who may have come over to look at Dave's "Odes to Tools" chapbook; we hope you'll like what you find!
There's lots of excitement at Phoenicia Publishing this spring! We'll have more announcements soon about forthcoming titles, but today we'd like to share some excellent news about one of our authors. Pamela Johnson Parker, author of A Walk Through the Memory Palace, which won the 2009 qarrtsiluni chapbook contest, has been named a Tennessee Williams Scholar by Sewanee Writer's Conference. Congratulations, Pamela, on this well-deserved honor!
A new review of Pamela's chapbook by Lawrence Gladeview was recently published at MediaVirus Magazine. Links to many other reviews and a blog tour of the chapbook, organized by qarrtsiluni, are posted here.
A little while ago, on Twitter, Ernesto Priego posted a link to a video, "The Future of Publishing," put out by the UK division of DK Books (Penguin). The video, with its minimalistic scrolling text read by a young female voice, was originally intended for the company's internal audience but has been released externally, and generated a lot of buzz. Ernesto, a poet and writer who's writing his PhD in London on comic books in the digital age, expressed some of the same doubts I felt after seeing the video, so I wrote to him and asked if he'd like to discuss it. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.
ERNESTO: The most crass commonplace in discussions about digital media, the future of the book etc. is the incorrect assumption that what in this advert is called "packaging" can be clearly differentiated from "content". Media are not simple receptacles where content is contained and that can be poured into a different receptacle. Media -- print or digital, aural or visual or multimedia -- are not only a means of transmission, they also communicate things in themselves, impose a particular framing that defines attitudes, meanings, readings.
BETH: Can you give some examples?
ERNESTO: In the case of some publications such as art books or other coffee table books (design, architecture, photography), in children's literature and books for very young readers (pop up books, books to teach kids about the 5 senses etc) and importantly comic books and graphic novels, that are collectable and make a very conscious use of graphic/editorial/publishing design, packaging is surely something that is not neutral, expendable or easily translated into other media.
BETH: For your PhD, you're working on comic books, right?
ERNESTO: Yes. My research is specifically about comic books and the new digital publishing scenario. Originally I was looking at webcomics or online comics as digital counterparts to physical, print comic books, but then mobile comics (to be read on the iPhone, and now the iPad) came along and started changing the game again.
BETH: How do you feel a comic on the IPhone differs from one printed and read on paper? How does a paper book affect the content within it?
ERNESTO: First of all we need to consider the format: page size, for instance. Other elements come into play, like the tactile feel, smell, etc, as well as behaviour that comes hand-in-hand with reading the books, such as going to a book shop every week (new comic books usually arrive on Wednesdays to shops in North America; Thursdays in the UK), meeting other readers, going to comics conventions, book-signing sessions, etc. There's that element, but the format one is key. The size of the iPhone (things are different in the case of the laptop screen or the iPad) is just minimal in comparison to even the smallest of 'mini-comics'. (self-published comics).
BETH: Books have historically unfolded in a linear manner. Comics and other graphic-intensive documents are linear, but they also have had a flow (historically, anyway) that depends on the viewer seeing more than a single frame at a time.
ERNESTO: Yes, that's true. The way comics work is through the juxtaposition of still graphic images on a delimited space (traditionally the paper page). Comics are different from comic strips and cartoons because they usually rely on a grid layout: panels are arranged sequentially, and the reading process, at least in the West, is guided by this element: first we see the whole page automatically, it's almost like an intuitive thing (unless we are seriously short-sighted). One sees the whole page, the whole grid, then one focuses on the first panel, which is usually the one on the top left corner. We follow to the next, then the next, up-down, left-right.
I believe that it's the grid layout that makes comics what they are (or used to be). In digital comics that are read on a small screen like the iPhone's, usually what used to be beautiful, complex visual narrative structures in the form of multilayered panel grids are now constrained to just one panel. One drags the fingertip to get to the next panel, but the experience of the page layout is lost.
Of course, it's great one can zoom in the text and the images, 'navigate' the visual text, but the specific texture of the comic book page is lost because physical dimensions have been constrained. We have a different case with the computer screen and probably with the iPad, where the dimensions are more generous.
BETH: Do you feel that comics and graphic novels are an entirely different category of book?
ERNESTO: What's important is that comic books ARE books. And people who study books have very largely ignored them, as if they were non-existent or from another planet. I strongly believe they offer some of the best examples to prove how it's not true that everything is translatable into 1 and 0s. It's literally like translation. The jar can never be rebuilt the way it was.
BETH: Let's get back to the DK advert...you had some reservations about it...
ERNESTO: My negative reaction is mainly to what it assumes about packaging... that these things can be seen in two reverse ways. I'm against this kind of bipolar thinking; it's a huge oversimplification. The video, supposedly engaging the debate about the migration of books from print to digital media, is reduced to two opposed ways of reading (scrolling down/scrolling up); where one is the negative one and the other the "optimistic" one. Perhaps paradoxically, DK Publishing's video, prepared by the UK branch of Dorling Kindersley Books and produced for by Khaki Films, could very easily be considered a plagiarism of "Truth," a 2006 promotional video by the Argentinean agency SAVAGLIO\TBWA and "Lost Generation" by Jonathan Reed (2008). In a time in which digital piracy is considered one of the biggest threats to creative content industries, DK Publishing's video's lack of originality seems counter-intuitive.
BETH: Well, the advert seems intended as a kind of slam-dunk, putting away (and putting down) any nuanced argument. And I hope readers will look at these original videos you mention - I'm rather shocked!
In my work as a professional graphic designer over the past three decades, I've had to become expert at "translating" print publication for the web - but I notice the problems people have with this, even now. The two methods of taking in information are not equal because, for one thing, our brains cannot process them the same way.
What you point out about the reading process is also my experience with graphics-heavy documents, and it's probably maximized with comics. One thing that is totally lost when we view one frame at a time is the way comic artists, storyboard artists, and graphic designers have always played with scale in their drawings, both as an artistic device and as a way of creating emphasis and a shifting viewpoint, not unlike a camera's zoom. For those who are familiar with storyboards for film, this is the standard way of representing the flow of a story, and the best artists are tremendously skilled at this manipulation of view. It's another component of "content" that is lost on the small screen when we're forced to view one frame or a small segment of the whole at a time. Of course, larger viewers will help with that.
I also saw that you mentioned Issuu as a viewer for comics. That's the application I use here at Phoenicia to simulate the act of turning pages and allow zooming, as well as a sense of the pages as a sequence in the book. I chose it because I couldn't stand the single-page previews of most "look inside" applications.
ERNESTO: I liked Issuu in the case of European comics because it allows the larger format. What I said before about the page layout on the iPhone is not entirely true since it is often possible to see the whole page, but it's so small you have to zoom in anyway. I think there are different degrees in which physical format, design, typography, layout, paper type, size, type of binding, etc affect the way one reads something depending on what kind of publication we are talking about. I often think of the Financial Times, published on that characteristic pinkish paper: what if they started printing it on standard newspaper paper? Maybe it's just me but I think that an important part of --at the very least-- the corporate identity of the FT would be lost. It's interesting that very often, if not always, books are designed differently depending of which market they are for: US and UK for example, or the Spanish, French or Italian editions of the same books. Cover design but also physical format in terms of size, binding, soft or hard cover, etc can affect dramatically the reaction to a book. It's not only about marketing, it's about what it makes readers feel.
BETH: Thinking of visual material as a "scroll" is helpful sometimes too. In our early days of producing .pdf versions of printed reports, we changed the formats from double-page spreads to single horizontal ones, similar to the IPad screen. One of the objections people had was that they wanted to print out the reports and couldn't deal with landscape pages! A client actually insisted that we do a vertical format version so people wouldn't have to turn the pages once they were printed! Resistance comes in many forms - literally! And it's especially so when the market is older readers.
ERNESTO: Yes, I'm sure of that. As my colleague Katharine Schopflin commented on Twitter, it's not only poetry that makes use of typographic and layout design in creative/meaningful ways. Even the most traditional prose-only novel will transmit different things in different editions with different formats. The best example is perhaps the much-hated "comic sans" font: can you imagine a PhD dissertation being taken seriously if typed on it? Lettering, like colouring, paper quality, printing method, etc., matters, and it matters very much.
BETH: So -- to get back to that advert -- what can we say about it in conclusion? It was, for sure, very clever and made its point, but I think there is truth in it read both ways around - attention spans are shorter, for instance, and publishing as we have always known it is definitely radically changing, if not dead.
ERNESTO: Yes, I totally agree. I think the advert can be read in many ways. What do you personally think of the voice they used? What does it make you feel or think? I have seen it once again, and I think I dislike it more now. It assumes there are only two sides to the coin, as if the print/digital debate were about seeing things in reverse only, about being 'positive' instead of 'negative'. I think it might even be patronising of young readers...
BETH: I agree about that. As for the voice - that's the whole point, isn't it, that it's female to be unthreatening, but definitely "young?" It reminds me of how I feel about a lot of Apple's marketing: it's so well done that it's manipulative. That kind of branding creates identification with the brand, makes you feel like an outlier and a rebel, but actually encourages conformity of behavior. I admire the cleverness - how can you not? - but it's important to think more deeply about the issues, as you've helped us do here, Ernesto! Refusing to think of digital and print in a bipolar way is the first step.
ERNESTO: I agree with you, it's marketing so it has to be taken with a grain of salt. It's not theory; it's not highly intellectual; it's what it is, an advert for ebooks or books on digital media. It's clever at the first watching, but if you think about it longer it's obvious it does not engage with the real questions.
BETH: Thanks so much, Ernesto! It's been great talking with you.
Chris Clarke and I have been online friends for a long time now, almost all the time I've been blogging, which will be seven years this coming week! We became friends when we were both contributors to the Ecotone Wiki, a collective early project of a number of bloggers who were interested in writing about "place."
Chris has continued to write about place, nature, life, and spirit, first at "Creek Running North" and now at Coyote Crossing. He's one of the internet-based writers whose work I admire most, for the consistent quality of his thought, his luminous prose, and for his dedication to writing itself. He not only keeps at it, he thinks deeply about what he's doing and believes, as I do, that we can always improve our craft.
Readers here may have seen Chris's comments on some of the previous posts, and he's written about Phoenicia at his own blog too. I'm so grateful for this kind of give-and-take and thoughtful discussion about topics of mutual interest; writing used to be one heck of a lot lonelier than it is today.
I asked Chris for permission to reprint his recent post, "How to Write," because the advice he gives is worth its weight in golden bytes -- and there's wisdom here for aspiring and expert writers alike.
HOW TO WRITE by Chris Clarke
1. Spend most of your time reading. Start as early in life as you can. Read everything — billboards, cereal boxes, books, letters, instruction manuals, correspondence course texts, magazines and affidavits. Drown yourself in a sea of sentences.
2. Keep track of the reading material that most moves you. Don’t worry if you can’t find commonalities among the various pieces at first. Don’t pick a favorite, or even a top ten. Keep it all in one big category: “stuff I loved reading.” Reread items from this category on a frequent basis.
3. Keep track of the work you least like reading. When you’re about to add a work to this category, spend some time thinking about why you’ve decided not to like it. If it’s simply a matter of the author being boneheaded and wrong, waste no more of your time on the work. But if it’s something else, figure out what that something else is. Pay attention to that. How does the writer fail you as a reader? Are there patterns within the writer’s work — consistently mangled metaphors, illogic, clunky language?
4. Edit other people’s writing. Take a class in editing at your local community college if you have to learn the basics, then volunteer your services at a non-profit or other community organization helping out with their newsletter or paper or magazine or website. Nothing teaches you what you want to avoid in your own writing as quickly as finding and correcting it in others’ writing. Nothing teaches economy of language more quickly than editing a 2,200-word article to fit it into a 600-word hole in a newsletter. As an alternative, take some of the books from step 3 and mark them up. Find the problems that caused you to dislike the work. Underline them. Describe them.
5. Go back to your pile of stuff you loved reading and do the same editing. Make positive comments where you feel moved. Note problems if you find them on rereading.
6. Pay attention to the world. Find something, or many things, that affect your emotions. It doesn’t matter what they are. Birds, stones, music, pastries, books, software, toys, bottle caps, medical procedures, politics, sex, other people’s writing. Whatever. It doesn’t matter except that it should matter to you. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of anyone writing about those things before. Just pay attention to them. Pay attention to how you feel about them. Note the nuances. Learn everything you want to know about them until you run out of time, information or interest. Keep doing this, with one thing or many things, until you die.
7. Eavesdrop. Sit in restaurants by yourself, or with another person who’s quiet. Be non-chalant and non-intrusive. Pretend to read a newspaper. Note the rhythms of conversation, the pauses, the phrasing and repetition.
8. Spend a couple years learning a new language. Nothing makes the inner workings of your native tongue more apparent than learning to think, and write, in a new one. If you already speak more than one language, add another to your repertoire. Pick different language families. If you speak English and Spanish, study Mandarin. If you speak those three, study Euskadi.
9. Start a blog. Commit to yourself to write and post 100 words a day on your blog. Feel free to write more than that if you get momentum going, but give yourself that daily deadline. Don’t edit before publishing, aside from a cursory once-over for embarrassing typoes, spelling and grammatical errors. Don’t worry if you have nothing to say. Don’t worry if you blather. Just: 100 words a day, at least, put up where people can see and respond to them. And replying to comments on your blog doesn’t count toward the 100-word total. Though you should reply to comments. You make friends that way, and writers need friends.
10. You pay attention to getting your spelling right, and to word choice. You pay attention to sentence structure. You need to take that up to the next level. Pay attention to paragraph structure as well. A paragraph is an idea. You’ve heard that said, if you’ve taken composition classes, and it’s basically true. But it’s more than that. A paragraph is not just a string of sentences in a logical order. A paragraph is a stanza in a poem, a verse of a song. It has an internal structure that has nothing to do with the information conveyed by the sentences. If all the sentences in a paragraph are the same length, you have a monotonous paragraph. Sometimes that’s what you want to do. Mostly it won’t be. Vary and balance sentence length within a paragraph. Put a long sentence in the middle of a series of short ones. Put two short sentences after a very long one. Language is music. Pay attention to its rhythm.
11. Read your writing aloud. Even better, have someone else read it aloud. Note where the reader stumbles. If it’s not over a word that’s hard to pronounce, then phrasing or sentence structure is probably the stumbling block. A sentence that’s stumbly when read aloud is a sentence that will distract the silent reader. Note the tripups and fix them. Smooth them flat. Sand them down. At the very least put up some caution tape. This is also a good way to learn about words you use far too often, phrases you’ve done to death, and concepts you haven’t illuminated sufficiently.
12. Write things. Put them away for a week. Don’t even look at them once in that time. Take them out again after a week and edit them. Look for stumbling block sentences, paragraphs that don’t quite follow, ideas that there’s an obvious better way to convey.
13. Remove the first and last paragraphs of each drafted piece altogether and see how the piece works without them. Most writers take a paragraph to crack their knuckles and warm up at the beginning of a draft, and you’ll find a perfectly good and more economical beginning at the start of the second paragraph. Taking a paragraph to wind down at the end is common as well. If, while reading your last para, you can hear the theme music swell in your head and imagine credits rolling, cut it out. There’s almost always a great ending line at the end of the previous para.
14. Explore indecision and doubt where they exist. Don’t try to explain the things you can’t explain. Doubt is way more interesting anyway. Find the weak points in your argument and acknowledge them. Hell, celebrate them.
15. There’s another level of structure above the paragraph. John McPhee once described some of his essays as having a structure like a lowercase “e.” They started out in a direction, made a wide expository loop, then ended up near but not precisely at the starting point, heading in more or less the original direction. Write a 2,000-word essay structured like a lowercase “e.” Then write essays structured like an “O,” an “S,” and a “Z.”
16. Take two wholly unrelated concepts. Write an essay about both of them. Make the transitions seamless. Write so the reader says “I never knew those two things had anything to do with each other, but it’s so obvious now!” Hint: Most of the effort lies in selecting the two things. The writing comes naturally.
17. Above all, enjoy your writing. Go back and reread things you wrote years ago and find joy in them.
Todd Davis, winner of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize and author of Some Heaven and The Least of These, is a professor of creative writing, environmental studies, and American literature at Penn State University's Altoona College. Todd's own poetry is influenced by the natural world, by family relationships, and by his personal knowledge of the Amish and Mennonite who live and farm in central Pennsylvania.
He was pleased to be asked to say something about fellow Pennsylvanian Dave Bonta's Odes to Tools, and I think his words reflect succinctly and beautifully what many of us feel about the integrity that exists between Dave's life and his poetry.
In Odes to Tools, Dave Bonta’s wide-ranging intellect and voracious curiosity are on full display, as is his insistence that we come to know the world that is forever passing from us. A meditation on everything from a measuring tape to a spirit level, this first book of poems demonstrates what all of Bonta’s readers at Via Negativa already know: here is the uncompromising voice of a man who has not allowed the broader culture to dictate what is important to him, or what is vital about the natural world that sustains us and the relationships that might actually transform us. As he says in “Ode to a Socket Wrench:” “with the click of a lever // the past screwed down / the future loose.” Bonta’s voice is one that offers keen insight into how we might move into that future, all of our senses intact, especially our common sense.
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