Sunday, January 25, 2009

Weird and Wonderful

The keyboard handbag from Damn Cool Pics, "Top 20 Weird Handbags."

Judith Leiber Cupcake purse.

From the advert to the exhibition of evening bags at the Museum of Bags and Purses (Tassenmuseum Hendrikje):

A real eye catcher in the exhibition is the cupcake, a little handbag in the shape of a cupcake, from Judith Leiber. Since the model appeared in the film, Sex and the City, this handbag has become a “must have” for every bag and purse enthusiast. Tassenmuseum Hendrikje has recently included this exceptional handbag in the collection.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Marita Dachsel's "Motherhood & Writing Project"

From the "Motherhood & Writing Project" on Marita Dachsel's newly configured and wonderful blog:

But it's more than wanting to be inspired. I don't need another SuperMom story to make me feel incompetent. I think what I'm craving is a dialogue with other writing-mothers, an honest dialogue where I hear how they do it, where they reveal the dark moments as well as the triumphs.

And that, dear readers, is what I hope this project will do. Every second week in 2009 I will post an interview will a writing-mother. She will have a new born. She will have teenagers. She will have kids in middle school. She will have one child. She will have four. She is a poet. A novelist. A screenwriter. A playwright. She writes for children. She writes for magazines. She writes. She has no time to write. She is at the beginning of her career. She is award-winning. She is unknown. She is celebrated. She writes and she mothers and she will tell you how she does it and how rewarding and difficult and frustrating and loving and struggling it is.

You can read my contribution to the project on Marita's blog here.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Short Interview with Jenna Butler of Rubicon Press

Jenna Butler lives in Edmonton. She is the author of three short collections of poetry, Forcing Bloom, weather, and Winter Ballast, in addition to an upcoming full-length collection from NeWest Press, aphelion. Jenna is also the founding editor of Rubicon Press, which publishes poetry chapbooks and broadsides.


There are a lot of very cool chapbook presses out there, Rubicon among them, doing great work. Jenna agreed to answer a few short questions about this labor of love. I urge you to check out the Rubicon site and look at the great chapbooks she has up for offer.


- What was the first chapbook that you made? What inspired you to make that first chapbook?

The first chapbook I made under the Rubicon Press name was In the Laughter of Stones: MA Poets. Yvonne Blomer (Rubicon's assistant editor) and I were just completing our MAs together in England, at a university that had a strong international reputation as a creative writing school. But it had never encouraged its poets to create an anthology of their work before; it was expected of the fiction and lifewriting students, but not of the poets. So Yvonne and I created Rubicon and collected the work for that anthology from our classmates. There were 11 of us in the program, selected from around the world, so the first collection was very diverse. We even held our own launch night, which was a really good time, to get that great & varied poetry out there. When we finished our degrees and moved home to Canada, we took Rubicon Press home with us, although we have since held launches in England, and I take books back there with me every year.

- Can you describe what the chapbook/book making process has added/detracted to your own writing?

It's added a lot. I look at the creation of a book, including the writing of it, in a totally different way. In my own writing, I think in great detail of how I want to arrange the manuscript so that all the poems are cohesive and can contribute to a strong overall book design. I also consider possible cover images and visuals, etc, in case a publisher does ask for input. The process has become a completely holistic one. In terms of inspiration as a writer, it's a really wonderful thing to be privileged enough to read other poets' new work every day! You get to see writers at every point of their journeys, from new poets to those who have been creating beautiful works for decades. It's an amazing feeling. It hasn't taken anything away from my own writing except for time. Rubicon blasted off once Yvonne and I came home to Canada, to the point where we receive over a hundred manuscripts from around the world every month. Reading and book design takes a lot of time, especially since the press is run completely on our volunteer time. It's just the two of us, in two different cities, and sometimes the amount of work that goes into the press is staggering. I've had to set limits on when we read manuscripts, just because it could otherwise take 100% of our free time. But I have to say, it's a really wonderful reason to have to cut back...being just too busy!

- What are your current aesthetic concerns, constraints, ideals, goals in creating book art? What are your sources of inspiration?

One of my constant (practical) concerns with book design is that the books must travel well. Because we publish internationally, books need to easily survive shipping to Australia, India, Africa, etc. Sometimes they'll spend weeks, even over a month, in the post. So travel-worthiness is also a factor of our book design; I'm not going to create a chapbook that will be delicate and will fall apart on its way to a book launch in Vienna. Also, I try to keep the books beautifully designed, but low-cost enough that folks from all walks of life can afford them. Often, the poets we work with know an artist or photographer who can donate an image for the book cover. We've been given a lot of beautiful art this way, and it's so neat to see artists from different disciplines become involved in the creation of these little chapbooks. Our mandate is to publish not only great poetry, but to produce the collections that our authors envisaged while working on their manuscripts. We encourage our poets to have a hand in the design process, so this involves a lot of e-mailing back and forth between us and the poets with various layouts and page proofs for approval. This does take a lot of time, but the books really fit what the poets were imagining. Yvonne and I lend the editorial and design eye here, setting up layouts and providing suggestions and cover proofs that will appear to greatest effect. Again, it's that holistic process, seeing the book through from the writing to the final, complete product, and staying as true as we can to the authors' hopes for the way their work will be presented. It's our job as editors and designers to tighten the words and the book layout to generate as cohesive, and as beautiful, a chapbook as we can. Inspiration is found everywhere: poets' words, book designs from both chapbook and trade publishers that we think work really well, paper samples that fire our imaginations, donated artwork or photographs...the list goes on. People also send us their chapbooks just out of the blue, so we get to see a huge selection of what other writers and publishers are producing around the world.

A Selection of the Rubicon Chapbooks - photo by Jenna Butler

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Selection of Links to Ekphrasis

In anticipation of sitting in on Bert Almon's creative writing class at U of Alberta next week where the topic for the day is ekphrastic poetry, I thought I'd put together another post with links on the subject. A previous post on ekphrasis can be found here.

I was most immersed in all things ekphrasis while writing my first book, All the God-Sized Fruit. This book is the subject of an M.A. thesis (Ekphrasis in Shawna Lemay: 'To Make Something Mythical of My Life') as well as several papers by Ariane Souza Santos. I'll be writing an upcoming post that will include links to all the paintings referred to in this book and my second book, Against Paradise. Man, I wish I'd had a handle on this crazy internet thing back in the day.

In the meantime, here are a whole herd of links - to books, blogs, essays, and other random ekphrastic goodness gleaned from the web. Enjoy!


A definition here, on the U Chicago, Theories of Media site.

Examples of Ekphrasis

I love those sites that link up a poem with the image. Check out Ekphrastic Excursions. The article, "Ekphrasis: Poetry Confronting Art" on is excellent - be sure and look at the sidebar - there are quite a few links to ekphrastic poems (no links to the works of art though), and links to 'related prose.' The online journal Qarrtsiluni describes itself as "an experiment in online literary and artistic collaboration. The title comes from an Iñupiaq word that means "sitting together in the darkness, waiting for something to burst." If you scroll down you can see some samples of that collaboration. Brushwork is site that showcases Christopher's Guerin's ekphrastic poetry, images included. Here's another: In Ekphrasis.


The blog Ekphrasis (Poetry on Art) by Therese Broderick is a treasure trove. Calamity Jane Takes Aim does a very decent run through of the conventions of ekphrasis. Here's a post on a blog called The Exponent - "Ekphrasis: The Sister Arts of Painting and Poetry." Scroll down to read a poem by Charles Wright on The Scream and one by Adam Zagajewski on Degas' The Millinery Shop. Another post on ekphrasis on This Recording. A relatively new and intriguing blog is Digital Ekphrasis. From the first post on Digital Ekphrasis:

"The project aims at rethinking the dynamic relationship between word and image with a special focus on how digital technology shapes, transforms and reconfigures literary representation. The significance of the rhetorical concept and genre of ekphrasis (the verbal representation of a visual representation) will be re-examined through contemporary print novels, where the digital has left its mark (i.e. through strategies that require digital processing, and through thematic and formal explorations of the digital), as well as through electronic literature (computer-programmed literature meant to be read on a screen)."

As well, my other blog Calm Things (about still life) occasionally includes ekphrastic poetry.


Ekphrasis "is a web magazine devoted to the arts, be they visual or literary" And then there's Ekphrasis : A Poetry Journal which notes that "Acceptable ekphrastic verse transcends mere description; it stands as transformative interpretational statement." Word and Image is a journal of Verbal/Visual Inquiry.

Articles/Essays on painting and poetry

"Drowning in a Sea of Love" by Cole Swenson

"Ekphrasis and Ekphrasis" by Tim Liardet

"Notes on Ekphrasis" by Alfred Corn

"Ekphrasis" on Writing About Art by Marjorie Munsterberg

"A Concert of Paintings: "Musical Ekphrasis" in the Twentieth Century" by Siglind Bruhn

"Ekphrasis and the Fabric of the Familiar in Mary Jo Salter's Poetry" by Jonathan F. S. Post

"Redeeming my faith in Ekphrasis" Eileen Tabios reviews Serious Pink, by Sharon Dolin

"What to Do Besides Describe it: Ekphrasis that Ignores the Subject" by Cole Swenson
(presented at Conceptual Poetry and Its Others Conference, University of Arizona, Tucson)


As with the other categories, this list is just a sampling of what's out there.

Tranforming Visions by Edward Hirsch

Picture Theory by W.J.T. Mitchell

Museum of Words: The Poetics of Ekphrasis from Homer to Ashbery By James A. W. Heffernan

Icons, Texts, Iconotexts: Essays on Ekphrasis and Intermediality By Peter Wagner

Getting the Picture: The Ekphrastic Principle in Twentieth-century Spanish Poetry
By Margaret Helen Persin

How Poets See the World: The Art of Description in Contemporary Poetry by Willard Spielgelman

Shooting the Works: On Poetry and Pictures by W.S. Di Piero

Poets on Painters: Essays on the Art of Painting by Twentieth-Century Poets
By J. D. McClatchy

What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images
By W. J. Thomas Mitchell

The Gazer's Spirit: Poems Speaking to Silent Works of Art by John Hollander

Twentieth-Century Poetry and the Visual Arts ed. byElizabeth Bergmann Loizeaux

A list of poets who more than occasionally write ekphrasis? Cole Swenson, Stephanie Bolster, Sharon Dolin, Charles Wright, Eavan Boland, many more.

Feel free to leave anything you'd like to add in the comments. I like to think of this post as a work in progress.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Team Erin - The Ride to Conquer Cancer

Please consider joining me in supporting Team Erin. You can visit the personal page of Lee Elliott, my longtime friend and constant inspiration, here.

From Lee's Page:

Support My Ride to Conquer Cancer

My son Jon established Team Erin in memory of his sister and my daughter, Erin, who died of leukemia in 2001, shortly after her 20th birthday.

When someone you love dies of cancer, you vow to do everything in your power to ensure no one else has to experience such pain. This year, as unlikely as it seems, the “everything in my power,” is a 200 km plus bike ride along the Alberta Rockies.

For the past three years, I’ve been privileged to work for the Alberta Cancer Foundation and the Alberta Cancer Board. I know where the funds raised are invested. I know the difference they make.

Since Erin’s death, I’ve intently watched research progress. I believe, if she were diagnosed today, she would have survived her cancer. Progress is that fast.

I plan to have plenty of grandchildren (no pressure Jon). For them and for your families, I want the future to be free of cancer. And I believe it’s possible.We can’t all be doctors or researchers, but we can all support them in their critical work.

Thank you in advance for supporting me and Team Erin. --lee

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Snow, Beautiful Snow

When you live in Edmonton, you tend to develop a love/hate relationship with snow. Most days I'm able to embrace the stuff, become one with the tuque and all that. Today is one of those days. Just about froze my fingers off taking these photos....

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Poem - Handbag by Ruth Fainlight

I just came across this poem by Ruth Fainlight, 'Handbag,' on the British Poems on the Underground site. Have a listen.