Starting all over again

It’s been a long time since my last post (sorry about that). So long that I had to revive the WordPress connection to my website www.bandannabooks.com.

In the interim I’ve been busy, but also somewhat withdrawing from my usual work-aholic pace. Re-evaluating what I am doing, and why, and for whom.

I now have over a hundred book titles, mostly of older classics, but a few original or translations. Also, the “Book Doc” venture is still going. My one steady client, now, after 8 books, has set up her own publishing company, for whom I continue to do work. I’m glad to see her take this step; she has a lot to offer, from her own life and also with creative helpful stories or writings.

The recent presidential contest has brought new relevance to some of my research into the Constitution, and what the United States really stands for.

My recent titles include Dred, which is Harriet Beecher Stowe’s follow-up to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, even closer to the eventual outbreak of war. Then, Tom Paine’s Common Sense, which I hadn’t actually read before, but which put new light on the decision to leave Britain. Also three volumes of the Federalist Papers, so as to distinguish the contributions separately of Jay, Hamilton, and Madison. Another which I stumbled upon were two pieces by Thomas Dixon (most famous for the script of Birth of a Nation — a play scene of Lincoln early in his Presidency, and a longer piece paralleling that, of Jefferson Davis — two men who were thrust into roles they did not relish but did their best, each in his separate circumstances.

From the same era came the Civil War era books Man Without a Country, and Fanny Kemble’s Journal (written in the 1930s but prevented by her husband from publishing it until the 1860s.

It’s been a pleasure for me to follow my own curiosity into how we got to where we are today; it helps to fill in my own curiosity, but from another angle, I have come to see many of these pieces as neglected or forgotten pieces of our vital past. Which in turn has led me to reconsider why I am driven to this search, as if my own education was missing so much, and presumably many other students also don’t know what they are missing.

Which has led me to reconsider what I am doing, and why, and for whom. I think it centers on college, which often includes the classes one is required to take, and skip over most of the rest. These days, I don’t want to skip over these pieces.

The ones I mentioned do share the vision that it took me years to learn while trying to be a writer — that a writing instructor finally had the persistence to pound into my head: a story from the heart, from one’s life, is ever so much more valuable than any work of fiction no matter how imaginative. Honesty, sometimes to the point of embarrassment, can deliver something from one soul to another, even if it had been written 800 years ago. If it has human honesty, even human confession, it delivers something valuable. Even in poetry, sometimes especially in poetry, that punch, that sting can still deliver.

That’s what I look for. That’s what I hope to continue to provide. What is it we learn at school? What do we need to know? Essentially, I believe, we need to know ourselves.

(end of preaching)

My website is www.bandannabooks.com. Some changes will be coming.

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Filed under An Editor's Perspective, College-level education

Welcome, MailChimp subscribers: Special offer

Welcome MailChimp subscribers. Special Shakespeare offer below.

For drama teachers: I want to tag along on this centennial year of Shakespeare’s death to make a special offer. You may (or may not) know of the Shakespeare Playbook format, now available for 18 of the most popular plays. These are designed as workbooks for directors or producers, with lots of open space for every scene, to sketch your ideas of costumes, attitude, notes, actor marks, set design, etc. Orson Welles did it that way, so did Alfred Hitchcock (with films). Plus sections for the producer on designing a playbill, promo campaign, budget, a timeline for the whole production, fittings for the costumer, plot notes, entrances and exits, etc. How to use it? Just for yourself, or for a whole class of advanced drama students to try to map out their own imaginations. Assistant directors, responsible for scheduling, hints on auditioning, keeping track of who is playing whom, all the crap that goes into an actual production — whether or not you actually produce the play (I hope you do).

So, my offer is this: If you buy any of the Playbooks, and fill in with some sketches of your vision of how the play might be staged (whether or not it actually is), send it back to me with your permission to use your art (and your name in the credits) in promoting the series (or not) and I’ll send you a fresh copy (or even a different play) for free. Take a look at shakespeareplaybook.com/todo/index.php where you can see some of Orson Welles’ sketches from The Merchant of Venice. Here’s one:

gaoler sketch

FOR GENERAL HUMANITIES, ENGLISH LIT:

My previous blog (“college store discounts”) arranged matters for the convenience of your local campus bookstore staff, so they can easily (once they get the discount code) order books directly and pick their own shipping schedule.Some profs are famous for last-minute switches or additions, once they hear that a certain title is available. We’re up to a hundred titles for literature/humanities now.

If you’re a prof/instructor (or bookseller), the easiest way to find a title is directly at bandannabooks.com (or “single n” bandanabooks.com if you prefer). Or just type in the ISBN number and that’ll get you there (or exact title/author).

A few of the books have “teacher editions,” with additional notes and discussion: The Apology, Areopagitica, Whitman first edition, Sappho. If you require an examination copy of any book, let me know; I can forward a pdf of the text directly to you.

The hottest titles now are Don’t Panic: The Procrastinator’s Guide to Writing an Effective Term Paper (ISBN 978-0-942208-42-9). And, surprisingly, Ghazals of Ghalib (ISBN 978-0-942208-06-1). He wrote in two-liners, like a stand-up comedian’s punchline, often with a wry twist.

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Filed under College-level education, Shakespeare, Shakespeareans, Writing

For the Profs/Instructors in Lit, Drama, or Humanities

Welcome MailChimp subscribers. Special Shakespeare offer below.

My previous blog (“college store discounts”) arranged matters for the convenience of your local campus bookstore staff, so they can easily (once they get the discount code) order books directly and pick their own shipping schedule.Some profs are famous for last-minute switches or additions, once they hear that a certain title is available. We’re up to a hundred titles for literature/humanities now.

If you’re a prof/instructor (or bookseller), the easiest way to find a title is directly at bandannabooks.com (or “single n” bandanabooks.com if you prefer). Or just type in the ISBN number and that’ll get you there (or exact title/author).

A few of the books have “teacher editions,” with additional notes and discussion: The Apology, Areopagitica, Whitman first edition, Sappho. If you require an examination copy of any book, let me know; I can forward a pdf of the text directly to you.

The hottest titles now are Don’t Panic: The Procrastinator’s Guide to Writing an Effective Term Paper (ISBN 978-0-942208-42-9). And, surprisingly, Ghazals of Ghalib (ISBN 978-0-942208-06-1). He wrote in two-liners, like a stand-up comedian’s punchline, often with a wry twist.

For drama teachers: I want to tag along on this centennial year of Shakespeare’s death to make a special offer. You may (or may not) know of the Shakespeare Playbook format, now available for 18 of the most popular plays. These are designed as workbooks for directors or producers, with lots of open space for every scene, to sketch your ideas of costumes, attitude, notes, actor marks, set design, etc. Orson Welles did it that way, so did Alfred Hitchcock (with films). Plus sections for the producer on designing a playbill, promo campaign, budget, a timeline for the whole production, fittings for the costumer, plot notes, entrances and exits, etc. How to use it? Just for yourself, or for a whole class of advanced drama students to try to map out their own imaginations. Assistant directors, responsible for scheduling, hints on auditioning, keeping track of who is playing whom, all the crap that goes into an actual production — whether or not you actually produce the play (I hope you do).

So, my offer is this: If you buy any of the Playbooks, and fill in with some sketches of your vision of how the play might be staged (whether or not it actually is), send it back to me with your permission to use your art (and your name in the credits) in promoting the series (or not) and I’ll send you a fresh copy (or even a different play) for free. Take a look at shakespeareplaybook.com/todo/index.php where you can see some of Orson Welles’ sketches from The Merchant of Venice. Here’s one:

gaoler sketch

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Filed under College-level education, discounts, Shakespeare, Shakespeareans, Twenty-first Century Publishing

College store discounts

September is tomorrow! And I’ve just completed the deep discounts for all Bandanna Books titles for literature, writing, humanities, Shakespeare, gender issues, American history (and more will be added later). 50% off for stores — just go to http://www.bandannabooks.com/store.php or go to bandannabooks.com (or bandanabooks.com if you prefer), or the new cla6.org, or collegediscount.org or even textbooksrent.com.

Once you spot the book, email us at bandanna@cox.net to get the discount code; be sure to send it from an .edu account to verify your status.

Discounts are offered for student texts, but not the teacher Supplement editions, with the exception of the Shakespeare Playbooks (18 of the most popular plays spread out in workbook fashion so that the “reader” or director can sketch out characters, scenes, action, emotion, etc.).

The discounts are good throughout the school year, and more titles will be forthcoming, some of them focused on the War Between the States, bearing on Black Lives Matter. You can call it literature or history, but some of the issues are still with us (two novels by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Fannie Kemble’s Journal, more to come).

Some recent additions that might be of interest to teachers of writing include essays by Twain, Stevenson, Bierce, Burton, Poe on elements of the craft of writing.

More later. Check in with Bandanna Books from time to time, our college-oriented shelf is expanding.

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Filed under College-level education, discounts, Nineteenth Century, Shakespeare, Twenty-first Century Publishing, Writing

Redesigning website

No visuals this time. I’m in the process (i.e., not done yet) of revamping my whole website into a more manageable, more meaningful activity. I’m watching libraries move toward “learning centers,” publishing options exploding by the year, connectivity broadened and leaking into “news” (or maybe that’s just my own perspective).

Over time, I myself have evolved, picking up one shiny option, then switching to another (without dropping the first). Although, as a typesetter back in the day, I was an early coder, I’m finding myself often at a loss as to which “language” is appropriate for which use. I forsook HTML for PHP, then recently found that my ISP had set an arbitrary limit on PHP (but it turns out that all I really had to do was change the limit).

Meanwhile, the shape of the internet world and the shape of my publishing didn’t mesh as nicely as I had assumed it would. So, rather than change the rest of the world, I have decided to change my own strategies for making connections.

One step is to kibosh the TimeWell monthly mag. If you missed it, let me know; it was somewhat fun to do, but time-consuming. Likewise the Story-a-Day, which, as far as I could tell, was not attracting readers.

Please bear with me, and don’t even try to use my website for, I’d guess, at least a month, at my best guess.

Hope you all are doing better, with less effort.

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Filed under An Editor's Perspective, Twenty-first Century Publishing

What’s Bernie All About?

Bernie2016

I was curious: Who is Bernie, and why is he saying these things?

I’m a Hillary supporter, but Bernie was making the effort to come to our small town (100,000 pop.), Santa Barbara, to give his stump speech yet again, to a few thousand of us, with an overcast sky outdoors on a college campus hillside. I could at least make the effort to bike over and see for myself.

Why did I go? To witness for myself this phenomenon of American politics. He was energetic, knowledgeable, covered a wide range of topics (on the right side of them for this youngish crowd). He spoke without notes for nearly two hours with his megaphone voice (a bit raspish midway).

As a longtime U.S. Senator, he had been involved on a policy level with many of the issues he addressed — and he was able to make understandable a wide array of complex social issues affecting almost every segment of the American populace — young, poor, elderly, those on Social Security, the disabled, Blacks, Latino/as, immigrants, low-wage earners, on and on.

He even threw in a few local references on Santa Barbara — one of the most expensive towns, but also a town with a high rate of homelessness in our midst.

The crowd was enthusiastic, with appropriate cheers and boos, and one soccer ball that seemed to bounce effortlessly from one part of the crowd to another.

Did I buy in?

It was hard to disagree with any of the points that he made — what was unjust, what ought to be done, how everyone could benefit.

He didn’t talk about himself. And he made a few polite mentions of Hillary — he hoped that she would come around to his own stance on $15 per hour minimum, or such.

Rather, his vision was about how the United States could be better in so many categories: taxes, infrastructure, prisons, marijuana, Social Security benefits, on and on. Somewhat an echo of “making America great again.”

When I returned home to digest what I’d witnessed, I noticed two things that hadn’t been immediately obvious while he was speaking.

One issue in my mind is that he did not share his vision of the US role in the world. Maybe that would have been another speech to another audience, but although his vision was broad and inclusive, it was also inward. To my mind it did not deal with foreign policy (except to condemn trade pacts). Unlike many nations in the world, an action that the US takes affects many people in many places who have no say in what develops.

And that led to my second observation. He was very knowledgeable on a variety of issues, and had definite ideas that things had to change for the better. But how were these changes going to come about? What I saw on the stage from a sitting U.S. Senator, and heard from his own mouth, were issues that would require a sea change in public attitudes, and a Congress able to make those transitions. In other words, Bernie Sanders is possibly better positioned in his current job to take concrete action than he would be as a President.

Bernie Sanders is a national resource. He’s an idea man, who can also penetrate the complexities of legislation to put forward concrete policy changes.

As a President, I’m not convinced that he could or would step away from a divisive issue, be not so invested in it as to help hammer out solutions. Most of the issues he talked about were not subject to Presidential Executive Orders. Now, if he were running for King, that might work. In a democracy (which we claim to be), every side gets to work out a slice of the pie. If we were simply run by majority rule, the poor, disabled, LGBTQ, black, latino/a, elderly would never get their say.

I see Bernie as a valuable visionary, articulating how we could be. He’s also a legislator, in a position to help that happen. And I’m glad that he made the effort to come to speak to us.

Whether purposefully or not, in this speech at this juncture of the Presidential contest, he did not attack Hillary, but seemed to invite her, as a colleague, to re-examine his own proposals. I hope that that relationship endures, no matter how the election comes out.

Bernie has had his bully pulpit, and has used it well to focus the Democratic campaign on issues and ideas. And that’s a good thing.

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Filed under An Editor's Perspective, Web Issues

An Episode of Obsolescence

Did you miss me? I missed you, and I’ll tell you how and why it happened.

I sat down at my big-screen iMac, as usual, in the process of creating a book for a client from typescripts of oral storytelling.

And the late 2007 iMac required restarting. Except that it would go to silver screen, blue screen, back to silver screen with the cursor—and then stall. I tried it over and over again, with no result.

The advice from my computer guy was that half the machines of that vintage had broken down, and that’s probably what happened.

So, I went on an expedition to get a somewhat newer but smaller machine, and hope that somehow I could rescue all the data from the hundred book InDesign and pdf files from the defunct machine. In the meantime I had to inform my new client that I had an unexpected setback, but would continue to work on putting all of the materials into a coherent and presumably publishable form.

The 2010 laptop that I acquired had barely been put to work when it disappeared, I’m not sure how — but it was swapped for an inferior laptop that looked similar, so I hadn’t noticed the theft right away.

Meanwhile, I re-loaded the original materials sent by email to me, onto the 1999 bulky Mac machine that actually still works, but only up to 10.5. I could at least work on the text in .txt.

Then another client, offered to help finance another machine by promise of doing her current work at reduced rate (I went for a Mac Mini this time, thinking in terms of swapping things out over the next five years as obsolescence would be continuing).

In the meantime, my technically oriented brother offered to help revive my machine. He actually upgraded at least to Lion (10.7), and found a way to force a start.

A new revelation came when I was researching the setup for my new machine. It turned out that Adobe, the maker of InDesign, the leading book designer, had made a major decision (without consulting me!) to move completely from disk-based programs to a subscription basis in a Cloud. In other words, their action had stalled my machine, which wasn’t actually broken at all!

With a little help from a friend, I’m back in production. At least for the time being.

The unplanned break has also interrupted my own publication program, for which I had just recently acquired 100 additional ISBN numbers to continue what has become a major effort to provide historical perspective through literature and translations. I had just started on literature shedding light on the recent Black Lives Matter, finding the sources of issues that still echo today — in an edition of Dred (just published) , Harriet Beecher Stowe’s followup to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, set in South Carolina. Two additional books from that era have had to be sidelined, though they’re in preparation.

This whole disruption of my efforts have led me to sit back and look at what I’ve been doing, whether it is a worthwhile project, whether I can continue to handle it by myself. In other words, how to go forward. And even more important, to answer the question of what and how to go forward.

That means, on the one hand, for whom am I doing all this, and on the other hand, what can I best contribute (translation, editing, publishing, anthologizing).

To be continued.

The Mac Mini is working fine; I think that was a good decision.

This interruption has also put a halt to Story-a-Day and the monthly TimeWell online mag. I have not had any response, positive or negative, about that lack. Let me know if you even noticed. I’m inclined to rethink Story-a-Day into mini-books, or simply ebooks aimed for smartphones. TimeWell was somewhat of a joy to do, but also time-consuming. That may need some repackaging as well.

Feedback, folks.

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Filed under litmag, New Titles from Bandanna Books, Twenty-first Century Publishing

how to read

No pictures this time. I started thinking about this thing that we do called reading.

As the leading species of the Anthropocene, we should know more about ourselves and how we came to be. As an evolutionist, and a student of history and what we surmise of prehistory, it’s accepted that we stood upright. Why we took this step (these steps) is not obvious, but my guess is that we stood up to look around. We’re reasonably good at looking — not so much on smell. Hearing, so-so. Taste, well that would come in handy later, when vintners and chefs came into being.

We stood up and saw, among other things, each other. The evidence shows that we tended to go in bands of 20-30, and if we grew too large, to break off into other groups/families. We have a long history of us. Us and them. That’s still with us, even as nations.

Whether standing and sitting upright had anything to do with our brain development is hard to say. We had predators, to which we were prey, and we were hunters as well. Gathering could be somewhat of a solo occupation, but hunting required coordination, planning, attention to the seasons, migration routes, leadership, roles, if we were to hunt the larger animals. That, and sitting around a campfire at night, moved us toward language.

Whatever the reason, language added a human dimension that made us entirely distinct as a species. Not only could we greet each other, we could also tell each other what we did, where we went, how the hunting went, whatever. In other words, we could “know” something that we had not ourselves experienced, something that had happened far away. Or perhaps on a previous day. Some tribes to this day assign the role of reciting the entire history of the tribe, or at least the genealogy of the leaders, which may extend hundreds of years into the past. To my knowledge, no other species has that ability. We can “know” things from a different time and place.

In the recent past, just a few thousand years ago, probably in the agrarian age, when some people were able to produce more food or clothing than they needed, the idea of trade came into being. That in itself was a new notion — that someone “owns” grain or produce or sheep. And that these could be traded for something else.

Trade, however, began to extend beyond friends, sometimes to intermediaries who traveled. Keeping records began to be a necessity. Money or equivalent value was introduced. Honesty was a virtue, but memory was not enough. Marking down who took what in exchange for what else seems to have been the first writing, and it was essentially numbers.

Writing things down became a necessity. Several cultures, the Chinese, Egyptians, relied on pictures or sketches to represent the goods. And then ideas became pictorialized. Some languages still use that as their basis.

One report is that workers in Egypt, some of them non-Egyptians, used scribbles, called demotic rather than the elegant figures engraved on Egyptian monuments. The Phoenicians picked up on this, however, in a different way — they decided that language was too rich to be contained in cartoons, so they chose instead to record the sounds of the words, thus creating an alphabet.

This innovation proved to be useful for other languages as well, so that other nations might keep their own language, and yet they could write it out using essentially the same alphabet. We do that still today.

For about a thousand years, at least in Europe, writing was almost lost. Only a few monks in a few places kept it up. Poets began to use it to praise or celebrate, eventually to express ideas, at least for those people who were literate. Poetry, for an illiterate population, was easier to hear and remember when someone recited it for them, and it was considered the basic tool of education, before schooling took hold.

In Shakespeare’s day, perhaps 10% of the population could read and write: merchants, the nobility. Plays, however, served as a great way for people to learn about history, and the actions of others in dramatic settings. The audience knew it was a play, though, because all the roles were played by men at that time. But they accepted this convention. And this allowed the general population to ease into, by the 18th Century, books written not in poetry but in plain language. And not necessarily true or historical.

That was the introduction of fiction, stories that seemed like reality, yet were also recognized as “not real.” This new skill made it possible to satisfy an increasingly large audience of people who wanted to temporarily enter a psychic space that was not their own lives but more exciting, more romantic, more emotional. And they discovered that they could do this alone in a room with a book, not necessarily watching a dramatic performance.

What it required was the ability to read. To read words quickly, while completely ignoring the world around one, but concentrated on the words line by line, skipping the previously important step of the sounds represented by the letters on the page. In other words, the reader had to turn off all consciousness of surroundings, noises, aromas, traffic, in order to draw in the well-paced, explicit language of description, dialogue, emotions, threats, curiosity, uncertainty, suspense, anxiousness from the beginning of a chapter to the end—which almost always was a bit of a cliff-hanger, urging the reader into the next adventure.

So, the act of reading requires at least two levels of consciousness: ignoring the actual reality of sitting in a chair turning or clicking pages, to indulge in a writer’s skill to keep your attention satisfied through a whole passage of life with its interactions. Perhaps, depending on the writer, you’ll be looking through more than one perspective to grasp the whole of a scene.

In other words, reading, really reading, involves much more than simply sounding out the words. That may be the way to start learning to read, but to be a reader, one must move on to the next level of involvement, so that you and the book are one — at least for the time that you are reading.

Interruptions destroy this delicate balance. Even having ideas of one’s own must be kept for later. While you are reading, you must forget yourself and let the book carry you. Good writing can allow this to happen. That’s what makes a successful writer, the ability to engross your attention, satisfy your sense of time and place and action with consistency, so that you are not even aware of the author.

That, in my opinion, is how to read.

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Filed under An Editor's Perspective, litmag, Twenty-first Century Publishing, Writing

Podcasts to come?

Podcasting should be easy for me. Years ago I did a radio show on the local college radio station, mixing odd music with talkie stuff, including some of my own reading. And that led to The Beechers Through the Nineteenth Century, a 26-episode series involving all eleven of the children of Lyman Beecher, their various exploits, most famously Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novels that led to the Civil War, and her brother Henry Ward Beecher’s enormous Brooklyn congregation and his outstanding series of lectures in Britain to dissuade the textile industry there from continuing to support the breakaway Southern states with their cotton production, based on a slave economy.
At that time, I could drag in “volunteers” for voices of various characters, though I did solicit five main actors for substantial roles.
A few decades have intervened since then, but I’m noticing the same kind of opportunity with the books I’ve continued to produce, originally aimed at college courses but more and more my own search for historical perspective on how we got to where we (i.e., America) has arrived today. I don’t have the luxury of nabbing people to read for me (though I did a recent trade-off with a friend with a sustaining British accent, to do a reading of The Deserted Village (paper edition here) by Oliver Goldsmith (audio not yet posted).
And I like to read, myself. Not having any children, I didn’t experience that relationship of reading stories–but why not do it as podcasts? I’ve already done three major projects with audio, posted chapter by chapter online. For free.
I checked online about audiobooks — and they are horrendously expensive. Why? It’s not like readers are rock stars. And the shift from CD audiobooks to just online seems to be going as one might expect. Everybody has a phone or laptop, but how many actually have a CD player? — unless your car already has one. Here is my tentative design for the podcast insignia. Two versions (no, that’s not me in the bandanna). Which do you prefer?

http://www.bandannabooks.com/pix/bbpodcast.jpg

http://www.bandannabooks.com/pix/bbpodcast2.jpg

I’m bracing myself to enter the arena, use some of my time to share books, many of them short, with “readers”/listeners. The nature of the “book” continues to evolve.
So, I’m not ready yet, but it looks like iTunes will be my outlet, as well as links on these blogs, for at least some of the 100 titles I have in print. Stay tuned. And I welcome ideas or comments from anyone out there who may have had some experience doing podcasts. Reply here, or find me at bandannabooks.com. More later. Ta-ta.

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Filed under Audio, College-level education, Twenty-first Century Publishing, Web Issues

Getting “Edgy”

edgykate

Still working on this concept — a different perspective on education (edgy-kation). It only occurred to me in perhaps the second year of college that the responsibility for my education was no longer the school or the teachers. It was me!

Sure, there were “requirements” and plans of study with important-sounding names like Civil Engineering or Nuclear Science. All well and good, and useful if one of those really fits you. For me, it didn’t fit — and I thought for a long time that that was my fault.

I’d chosen one of the best schools in the country — MIT, so what could go wrong? And I don’t fault MIT, they had wonderful programs, opportunities, professors, extracurriculars such as Debate, which I loved.

No, what I didn’t understand was that my education was MY responsibility. I wasn’t just in school, I was in effect hiring the professors. But I didn’t know it at the time. Eventually we parted ways.

The feeling of “What am I gonna do now?” gradually morphed into a realization that I was in charge of my life, no one else but me.

Well, in a minor way, Edgy-Kate is aimed at clarifying that realization whether in school or out. “What am I here for?” becomes transformed into “What can I tackle next?” and life comes alive in a new way. At least, that’s the point of this exercise.

Myself, I found my way to writing, editing, publishing — and always prompting the reader to respond or think anew.

For me the key word is “edgy,” or “on the leading edge,” spurred on by curiosity and possibility. That, I believe, makes books come alive, and opens up vistas in one’s personal life that may require venturing into new territory.

This version of “Edgy-Kate” is designed for readers; for me and for many people, that’s how we explore the world, make decisions, dare to venture into the new. “Edgy” for me means being awake to possibilities.

Yes, it’s a work in progress — aren’t we all?

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Filed under An Editor's Perspective, Twenty-first Century Publishing, Writing

Have We Changed? Stowe and Kemble

What can be the relevance of old books to today’s world? I’m just now in the process of posting two that definitely echo into our own lives in America.

Why were we so slow in dealing with the issue of slavery? The British Empire had stopped the slave trade in 1807, and in 1833 banned slavery entirely throughout the world-wide Empire.

And then, five years later, a young English bride joins her new American husband, who recently inherited several plantations Georgia, the Deep South, to spend a few months before going up to Philadelphia. She kept a journal, which I’m republishing just now as Fanny Kemble’s Journal, in the form of letters to a distant friend. Amid her many discoveries is her dismay over the actualities of the cruelty of slavery, in which a slave in the South is not even considered a human being in the law, and therefore no recourse to any mistreatment. kemblefrontcov
Her husband, of course, defends the system that allows the plantation to function (later in life, after the Civil War is over, he perseveres with free labor, and fails to make it work economically).

Why did she wait so long to publish her account? Her husband forbade her to publish on pain of never seeing her two daughters again. Once they were of age, 21, she did publish it, in the middle of the American Civil War.

The other book, which I already mentioned, is Harriet Beecher Stowe’s follow-up novel, Dred, Harriet Beecher Stowe, published in 1856, much closer to the outbreak of hostilities. Her novel, full of fascinating characters on all sides of the issue, centered on South Carolina and the lengthy Carolina coastal swampland — which could offer runaway slaves a chance to escape. Dred, the title character, lives in the swampland, with occasional forays into the inland areas to see where he might be of assistance to the slave population. dredfrontcov
Stowe’s careful recreation of the whole scene makes it obvious how this system came to exist, and why its rigidity crept into religion, law, social society. The plantations were an American version of the landed estates in Britain, plus slaves. The advantage of slaves is that the owners didn’t have to pay them or cajole them — just feed them and provide minimal housing (it was the warm South, after all). How could the owners lose that? What also becomes apparent is the position of the poor whites, who can’t compete in the labor market with slaves, so are reduced to poaching, becoming runaway-slave hunters, selling alcohol, or trespassing. Everybody knows their place, but there’s no social mobility. And no mutual respect. Why does that sound so contemporary with Trayvon Martin, Black Lives Matter, or the loyalty to the Confederate flag? Of course states have rights, but they don’t have the right to redefine who is a human being, or who is allowed to vote.

Our heritage (of the United States) is long (comparatively) and not always proud. We need to own it, own it all — and recognize that we’re on a path. We’re not at the final destination, in fact that’s part of our legacy: progress, improvement, trying things to see if they’ll work, flying to the moon. We change, from generation to generation, we adapt, learn new ways, shoulder wider responsibilities.

Personally, I find that looking backwards into our past, or the world’s past, helps me to anticipate the future even past my lifetime. I hope that others can help to carry the load on ahead.

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Black Lives

What does a publisher of classic literature do for current events. Black Lives Matter: of course they do, but why does that need to be said?
I’m just now putting together an edition of Dred (not yet available from Bandanna Books), which has been very revealing to me personally. I did not grow up in the South. We had, as I recall, about three black students in a student body of nearly a thousand in my high school. One in one of my classes seemed to be an average student; I heard that his father was a doctor, and they lived on the edge of town.
Harriet Beecher Stowe was not a Southerner, but her family lived just across the Ohio River from the traditional slave states. Her 1853 novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was greeted with a flurry of opinion in both the free and the slave states because she portrayed people as they were, with “ordinary” stories, including a kindly slave owner as well as the later Simon Legree.
I’ve already published that novel. But now, three years later, and edging into the time when the Union almost broke apart, Stowe wrote another engaging novel centered on South Carolina, and the mix of plantation owners, slaves, preachers, reformers, each with their own story and each treated as actual people in their circumstances.
With Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe couldn’t resist finishing off that novel with a diatribe, spoiling the stories which had done so much to raise the level of understanding about the institution of slavery and its effects not only on the slaves, but on the whites, the mixed bloods.
With the Dred novel, she manages to keep above the preachiness, and show people as they were.
The lesson I came away with, was how the plantation system seemed destined to trap everyone in uncomfortable roles — such as the landless poor whites, who were often forced into occupations that even the slaves would not undertake, the estate families had to abide by unwritten rules not to allow slaves to learn to read and write.
The shadowy figure of Dred, living in the coastal swamps, the son of a free man who nevertheless was accused of preparing a slave revolt, and executed on little more than suspicion.
Well, I won’t give it all away. Just working on this book sent echoes through my mind, a resonance to seemingly inexplicable rigid fears or attitudes that should have died out a hundred years ago.
The Civil War settled the legal status of people living in the United States, but war does not solve or change everything. We must recognize our heritage, and live with it.
More later.

I’m late with the most recent TimeWell, an issue devoted to Love. Help yourself. And subscribe so you can get it regularly.

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Pondering reading habits

No pix for this. I ran across a statistic that has fed into my ponderings about the present and future of reading. The startling “news” in this survey was that 60% of books bought are never read — well, certainly never finished. I’m close to falling into that category.

Looking at the recent (only two or three centuries ago) habit of reading, it was a relatively new activity. Printing had spread fairly quickly, in decades, though setting type and printing was time-consuming.

But to bring it up to date, I’m looking at my own habits, and my own slip-slide transition in publishing, or making available printed materials (if that’s still called publishing). More than two years ago, I started TimeWell (www.timewell.us), an online litmag, with much of the material from classic (dead authors) writing. The selections were chosen as they related to a central theme of the month. Which in my original idea was to connect, or streeeetch the past into the present, to show similarities and/or differences.

Then, a few months ago, I started another venture, called Story a Day (www.storyaday.us), posting every day a “new” story from Boccaccio, Collodi, Chekhov, Broun, Harte, Hawthorne, Doyle, etc.

Back to the old days, only the rich learned to read, and had the leisure to go through sometimes rather lengthy tomes. Not much else to do around the family fireplace in the evening.

Our present time, however, seems to demand more of us more of the time, so that we schedule in times and places (or online, or in Second Life). Disconnected.

And I’m thinking, is there a better way to introduce, or re-introduce the so-called classics to readers today — not as whole books but in pieces, that may be continuous or perhaps not.

My latest version of all this, not yet posted, is “Chapter-a-Time” (www.chapteratime.com), but not demanding that the reader keep up the pace of a story a day, but rather can read at her/his own pace.

And that may fit better with the older material, which, yes, does have characters, and plot lines, but tends to be more immersive in a whole setting or mind-frame, rather than the Hollywood-style hurry to get into the next predicament.

I may be off-base with this premise, but my assumption is that reading itself is an addiction. Not a dangerous one, with the exception of “killing” time. It’s like cheap time-travel, or being inside someone else’s head or experience even while sitting in a chair or on a bed at home.

In other words, it’s not that one “learns” from a book and is then qualified to pass a test; no, the experience of reading hooks us in to someone else’s thoughts, fears, speculations, without any risk at all.

So, the question in my mind, as a “publisher,” is — how to provide this experience conveniently, with a steady feed. And not scratching for the new and ever newer, as many publishers do. My inclination stems from the very first time I entered the adult section of the Public Library, on my twelfth birthday and getting an adult card. I walked down a curved hallway, and stood looking at two stories and shelves filled with books. I thought to myself — it’s going to take a lifetime to read all those books (as if that was my duty).

I’m still working on “all those books.” And trying to make it easier for others to participate. Reading, after all, is the other half of writing.

So, how have your reading habits changed over time?

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Edgy-Kate, not educate

edgykate

For your eyes only. Alpha project: EdgyKate

Working up a “new” idea for subverting the typical education. I’m not sure what this will look like when it goes beyond beta (if it reaches that far).

My goal is to provide or stimulate or foist upon eager minds a single idea: curiosity, couched in a disrespect or dissatisfaction for “things as they are” or “face value.” In other words, to make “educate” (from educe, lead to, or draw to) to “edgy-kate,” in which — as you can see in the logo — the student takes the initiative, “grades” the professor or text; students create the reading list (if there is to be one); people collaborate openly, or debate openly; and the curious dig into material that is definitely NOT on the reading list.

That’s what I mean by “edgy.” It’s the quandary of the thinking person: dissatisfaction, wanting to know more, wanting to know the other side, or other options, and if there aren’t any, then to invent alternatives.

Why or how did I come up with this idea? because — in retrospect — the ordinary sit in class and recite lessons from texts was a barrier, not a doorway, to actual learning.

Learning, I’ve discovered, means being wrong, making mistakes, following absurd premises, challenging obvious truths.

This path may be suitable for only a few. Are you one of the few? Are you open to the task of determining your own future, your own path?

Comments welcomed.

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Joan and Mark

I couldn’t stop myself this week; I posted two new titles up, available on Amazon within the next few days (if not already).

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Joan is Mark Twain’s last full-length novel, and he thought it would cap off his career. However, readers must have been expecting the wry humor of his earlier work. Joan of Arc is his theme, as “told” in old age by the man who was a boy playmate of Joan’s in the village of Domremy, who knew the Fairy Tree tales, saw the young Joan unexpectedly blossom into a self-assured person, albeit one who had heard Voices, then accompanied her as she, surprisingly, convinced the weak-willed young King to hand over the fragments of the French Army to her to combat the Burgundians and the English who were destroying the kingdom. He saw her persuasive insistence, her savvy intelligence, her inspiring leadership of warriors twice her size, and turn the tables on their opponents. He witnessed the trials when Joan was captured, and then sold to the English, who despised her and yet were unable to convict her in any convincing way. Only by subterfuge and empty promises did they trick her into donning male clothing at the end, as she had worn in battle, to finally convict her and put her to death. Twain did prodigious research, but I believe that he really meant to set the story straight, and show how it must have happened. I found it inspiring enough to print an edition of it, available here.

The other piece, much shorter, is entirely my own. Though I was raised in a Christian household, and had read the Bible all the way through in my mid-teens, underlining as I went, I really only made sense of it later in life. The “Old” Testament is actually the founding document for the Jewish nation and people, and still is. And then there are these later books that seem entirely other. Most of them, though not all, were centered around Jesus.

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I learned much later that Mark was actually the first written, and I decided, after several decades of editing and publishing, to take a look at this very first document relating to this odd change or break in the tradition. My thinking on this is developed in Mark’s Jayzz. (Why “Jayzz”? in order to break the habit of rigidity of language and all the associated assumptions surrounding “Jesus.” To look at it with new eyes, editor’s eyes).

Let me summarize my editor’s thoughts. For maybe fifty years after Jayzz died, people felt, and apparently “Mark,” or whoever was writing the account in the Mark community, that there was a need to make sense of what had happened. So the first question an editor asks is, Why was there a need to write this out in the first place? Sure, something new had happened, but it was over, wasn’t it?

The first clue is that the Book of Mark is not written in Hebrew; it’s not translated from Hebrew–it’s written in Greek. Now, a lot of people, especially educated or in cities, would know Greek. But why Greek? Jayzz had been a Jew and never pretended to be anything else. He’d been like a minor prophet in a long tradition of prophets, wasn’t he? Unlike the others, though, he didn’t rail against the people to obey the leaders — instead, he was inciting people to love one another, even Romans or Gentiles. What would happen to the Covenant with G-d? What would it mean to be Jewish if everyone were invited to Heaven?

So, Mark’s community had to have a narrative that made sense for themselves. Mark himself was careful to choose items or episodes, but not to preach. Unlike Paul, who was fostering churches and doctrines, Mark did not require belief; instead, he was intent on developing a coherent story out of the snatches of sayings that had passed on down through time, that would re-affirm to his community the feeling that something special had happened. And it might help answer the question that seemed to haunt him: were they themselves Jews or something else?

Read it for yourself, and see what you think.

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The Idea of a President

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It’s presidential season once again. Let me re-introduce The Idea of a President, based on the debate by the Founding Fathers (yes, those guys) at the Constitutional Convention. This version, drawn from the words of James Monroe, the inveterate note-taker, includes every discussion during the five-month Convention relating to establishing the office of the President. Exactly what this office was to “solve” when it would replace the inadequate leadership in the dreadfully ineffective Continental Congress—was an open question, but a vital one.

The script for the debate is arranged in the present tense, as if this were a radio play (and an audio version is available online). Participants include James Madison (who organized the meeting), Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Elbridge Gerry, Edmund Randolph, George Washington (presiding), John Dickinson, Oliver Ellsworth, George Mason, Gouverneur Morris, Charles Pinckney, Roger Sherman, John Rutledge, and more.

One thing they agreed upon, a President would NOT be a King. And, at the other extreme, he or they would not simply “preside.” Yes, one of the proposals was to have the Office of the President filled by three people instead of one.

And should he/she/they serve for three years, seven years, indefinitely during good behavior? How would a bad President be removed?

Perhaps a Supreme Court should be his advisory body?

Who would select the President? The governors of each state? (no, said the big states). The populace at large? (no, said the little states). The House of Representatives? (too partisan). How about by lot? (yeowee!).

Many other issues, besides the Office of the Presidency, were discussed and/or resolved at the Continental Congress—those are not in this 182pp. book. This script was written with one objective in mind: to bring alive the process by which the Presidency was conceived in the beginning, by some of the greatest minds of the Enlightenment. The reader will have to answer whether those intentions were met and are still carried out.

As you go into the voting station next year, you will take part in this process. Democracy is a messy arrangement; it doesn’t require us all to agree on anything, but it does call on us to take part and keep the process unfolding.

The Idea of a President is available online.

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Ovid, The Changes

Another classic modernized, and published by Bandanna Books. I may lose a few customers by changing the traditional title “Metamorphoses” to “The Changes,” but as a student the Latinate title had turned me off from even looking inside.

Ovid front cover

When I looked in later life, the curious project of Jacob Tonson fascinated me. Several prominent 18th-Century British poets had ventured to translate one or several of the stories from Ovid — including Alexander Pope, John Gay, Dryden, Addison, and a couple dozen others. What Tonson did was to enlist Samuel Garth to round up the poems that existed (some poets had already died), and persuade others to bend their talents toward the iambic pentameter model and finish the project. It took several years, for Ovid’s work is over 600 pages, covering most of the known, and some obscure stories from Greek and Latin.

Ovid’s intention was apparently to curry favor with the new powers-to-be in Rome after the death of Julius Caesar and the internecine warfare had ceased–for he designed the rough chronology of the stories to lead from the Creation of the World to Aeneas fleeing Troy and to his descendants in Italy, providing at least a mythological basis for claiming that whole ancestry for the new Rome in the named person of Augustus Caesar.

If that was his intention, however, it did not save Ovid from banishment by command of the same Augustus Caesar, no reason given. The presumption of some historians is that the new Caesar intended to model the new Rome on a moralistic basis. Ovid, with his previous Art of Love and other pieces, apparently did not fit into this scheme.

The book itself is a tour de force, a comprehensive encyclopedia of gods and heroes and centaurs and maidens and Bacchantes—mingling the Greek heritage with Roman stories and gods. Ovid assumes the reader’s knowledge of Homer’s epic works, without retelling most of those stories. He does expand on one specific episode, however. At the end, when Troy is destroyed and before the ships return to various parts of Greece, Achilles dies. Two warriors claim his armor and goods: Ajax, the mighty fighter and Ulysses (Odysseus), who so vanquished Ajax’s argument that Ajax took his own life.

Besides the rousing good stories (humans battling centaurs, Phaeton’s fatal ride, Medea’s mischief), immersing myself in these tales brought me to an unexpected awareness in myself. Although I had been brought up in a Christian surrounding, though not paying a lot of attention to it after my teen years, I had been unaware, until studying The Changes how thoroughly different a world the classical culture would have been to live in.

I once had scoffed at the report that the early Christians were scolded as atheists, for believing in only one God, and a distant one at that. But that remark was quite telling.

If you live in a world with no “holy book,” no commandments, no “hell” or “heaven” as such, then your guide for living is to pay homage to one or another god or goddess, depending on your city or your needs. A spring might have a guardian spirit, a stranger might be a god in disguise. In other words, the whole world would be alive, and, possibly, responsive to your actions. A bad boy might be turned into a lizard, or a master weaver might regret challenging a goddess, even if she won. A beautiful woman might be vain over her beautiful hair—until she is turned into Medusa, whose very look would turn men to stone. Pride was a downfall, heroic deeds might be rewarded, being good and gentle might save you even if the whole world were flooded.

Ovid’s tales have been used by many storytellers since then; some have entered the common language: Echo, and Narcissus, for instance. The Changes is a powerful read. I recommend that you don’t read it just before falling asleep.

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Graham Mackintosh. Printing and Publishing.

A few weeks ago, a gathering of celebration of the life, and recent death, of the master printer, Graham Mackintosh. You may not have known his name, but if you ever picked up a Black Sparrow Press book, or any of a number of West Coast small press publications, you had in your hands a piece of his legacy.
I had the honor of working for/with him, first at Young and Mackintosh, then when Noel Young decided to cash in his printing days in favor of publishing Capra Press, the business became Mackintosh and Young (Aaron Young, Noel’s son, the binder). And a few years later, simply Mackintosh Typography.

We did other jobs, but John Martin’s Black Sparrow Press, six books, twice a year, in paperback, hardcover, and hardcover signed limited editions kept the doors open. Barbara Martin’s always original, often abstract, cover designs benefited from Graham’s “old-fashioned” method of actually mixing inks to specifications, printing each color separately — with the result of bright color that popped, rather than the quick slick four-color process.

A week or so later, I was asked to speak at a gathering of small publishers, editors, librarians, readers, writers, collectors, poets at the local Book Den, which has survived as a viable bookstore with a customer base while Borders and Barnes & Noble have fled the city.

I’ll share a little of my own progress, which had not been aimed at publishing at all. But circumstances, when I returned to the USA from my stint in the at-the-time new Peace Corps, were heating up over the Vietnam War. Back on campus, I was finishing up my Masters degree, writing more stories and sending them out (with little success). I made one decision — to turn in my draft card, which might have had consequences — and it did. I was asked to edit and publish a new “underground newspaper” there in Iowa City, and enlist the local SDS students to volunteer stripping it up, and hawking it on the street twice a month. I’d been “drafted” into being a journalist. A grad student was leaving, and wanted to leave a printing press to someone — and I said yes again. It took awhile to learn how to operate it, but with help I put out a few issues of Peace and Freedom Party pamphlets. We hosted a gathering (since Iowa City was more or less in the middle of the country) of about 80 underground mags like ours. And soon after, I was invited, as printer, to join Liberation News Service, definitely left-wing activism, at a 60-acre former farm in western Massachusetts. Destiny seemed to have a plan for me. My own writing was sidetracked in the process.

Well, Massachusetts gave way to New York City; me and my partner moved there, and I stayed for five years, doing temporary typing while still trying to write. I did a few interviews, got a piece in the Village Voice, saw a lot of avant-garde art, music, poetry. But my typing — I worked at Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich for eight months, Appleton-Century, did a bit of proofreading for an imprint of Random House, got to see the small presses and get a sense of publishing without even trying.

When I left New York City five years later, with a different partner, we came to Santa Barbara, because she’d gone to school at the University there. I got a typing job at the local alternative newspaper, which was not nearly as political as the other had been. And then I switched to working for Graham and Noel (except Noel was leaving). I didn’t know much about Graham, it was just a job (lasted nearly 30 years).

My partner and I hung out, went to poetry readings at a bar that was about four blocks from where we lived. Nice, but nothing was happening. By the end of a year, I don’t remember who first said, “Why don’t we create a memorial volume of this poetry group?” As a typesetter, I could just do it at work, no problem. “Sure,” I said, without much thought. I was actually attending a class on writing, trying to figure out why my writing sucked — or so the publishers must have thought. I could do characters, even a bit of homespun language, craft a story with somewhat of a problem, and resolve it. What else was there to writing than that? As a typesetter, I was getting conversant with the Chicago Manual of Style, knew where to put the commas and semicolons, how to create a copyright page. Prose was where my head was at.

So we decided, since neither of us felt competent to select the pieces for this little poetry pamphlet, that we would at least select the poets who had read regularly, and then let each one choose one poem for us to put in the booklet — so that it would be a group project. They did, and I put the poems on pages. One poet had a child who had learned to fingerpaint, so we used one of his pieces, entirely abstract, for the cover, and we titled it The December Book, because that was when it was coming out.

We passed out the copies, I think two or three per poet, a stapled booklet. I don’t think it ever entered our heads that we might sell it — it wasn’t really “ours.”

I think it was less than a week before a poet came by — not one in the book, but someone I think we’d met before. And he said, “Publish me.” He had a manuscript already, with a title. And he was willing to pay for us doing it.

“Publish it? Us?” And then it struck me. This was something that we could do for other people. We hadn’t thought of ourselves as publishers, we hadn’t planned this. But the idea grew. And Santa Barbara was a good place for this to happen. I saw what Noel was doing, with a series of chapbooks perhaps 24 pages long, and he was expanding to books.

The more we thought about it, the idea began to make sense. My partner, who had been a potter, loved working with her hands — and it was just at the time when letterpress printing was becoming completely unprofitable, or rather, labor-intensive. But Virginia Woolf did it. And we met others, Turkey Press in Isla Vista, doing it.

Anyhow, it began a process that, for me, continues to this day. The First Amendment to the Constitution establishes freedom of the press, which means that you, or anybody, does not need a license to publish. You can just do it. And that’s what we did.

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Another evolution of publishing? Epub wins.

Epub has been around for awhile, but so has pdf (which, as a book designer, I love), text, rtfd, Kindle, Nook, and who knows what else.

But it appears, from what I’m reading in the industry papers, that dedicated e-readers, which seemed the natural next step after paper books, may be just another rock to skip to the next, on our way across the stream into the future. The book is physical, you hold it in your hand or your lap, flick the pages one by one. The e-reader seemed like the obvious replacement.

And then there was iPad. And tablets. And smartphones. A smartphone doesn’t look like a book, and it may seem just too small for a comfortable reading experience. But with 3G, I’m told, a downloaded book can be available on whichever device happens to be handy. Kindle is a bit problematic, so I’m told, with its Amazon-modified system.

The advantage of ePub is that the running text can be resized, set sideways, all for the reader’s convenience. The words, the words, it’s all about the words. Delivery of the words in the most suitable way for every reader (or spoken with text to speech).

Evolutionists state that humans are not the swiftest, or the strongest, or the most agile, can’t fly, are limited in swimming — so why is it that we cover the earth? Because, they say, we are the most adaptable. We invented reading. And now we’re inventing yet new ways for reading.

For myself, I will have to adapt as well, to make available ePub versions of the Bandanna Books and Mudborn Press titles. That ought to last five years, perhaps longer. Looking into the future tends to get foggy rather quickly.

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Tanka and Double Tanka

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The adventurous poet, and one-time neighbor, Dennis Holt, has come out with a new volume,

Tanka Waka Uta (words that describe a syllabic pattern a bit more extended than haiku, actually an older form than haiku). Under the pseudonym Hayashi, he shares a number of tanka in traditional themes: nature, human relations, sparks of insight caught within 31-syllables. Or, in the case of double tanka, 62.

A figure in L.A. poetry, now residing in the Santa Cruz area, Dennis has hosted poetry shows in Santa Barbara and Connecticut, once owned a bookstore, and always delights in language (a professional linguist) and numbers, and, more recently his “Ott Cods” (art cards) have begun to appear—communicating his perceptions in artistic form.

Poetry as exploration, poetry as giving a voice to life.

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