A Conversation with Janine Oshiro

Janine Oshiro

Janine Oshiro holds degrees from Whitworth College (now Whitworth University), Portland State University, and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is a Kundiman fellow and the recipient of a poetry fellowship from Oregon’s Literary Arts. Her first book Pier was the winner of the 2010 Kundiman Poetry Prize and was recently published by Alice James Books. She lives in Hawaii and teaches at Windward Community College.

LR: In Pier, which is so richly evocative of the complex emotions surrounding the illness and loss of a loved one, you strike a fine balance between confession and creative license, authentic experience and fantasy. How did you find this balance? And how did you avoid sentimentality?

PIER

JO: I’ll first respond to the “S-word.” I didn’t think consciously about avoiding sentimentality; while I don’t want to be sentimental, I do think that sometimes the fear of sentimentality can inhibit the exploration of emotions. Sometimes the truth of a person’s experience can come off as sentimental in a poem. There is no way around that. I would much rather read a poem that strikes me as authentic and a little sentimental than a poem that is just hip and ironic or detached and intellectual. I think about a poet like James Galvin, who in his latest book has a poem called “Two Angels,” featuring a boy with a mental disability and a dog. It walks the fine line. I truly admire that he doesn’t shy away from what might be construed as sentimental. In a way I think the fearlessness to even approach the sentimental is what makes some of his poems so powerful for me. I know that I have written some sentimental poems and poems I would never want anyone to read, and those poems have been important in my development as a writer and as a person.

I don’t really know that I can answer the question about balance. Did I have a strategy for finding a balance? No. I had all these questions about losing my mom, seeing my dad’s health decline, experiencing invisible presences, having a distinctly marked body, and feeling an “other” to myself. Writing the poems was my way of trying to answer these questions—even though I wasn’t really aware of that as my “project” at the beginning. Of course, I could have chosen to answer these questions through journaling and therapy, which I did to a certain extent. But then there is this—making a word-object with sound constellations, reimagining experience, creating a new and authentic experience in the word-world. What really happened? I didn’t really see a school of spoons swimming in the ocean though I write about it in the poem “Setting,” but I really did experience something crawling out of a zippered compartment in the wall and running down my body as I describe in “Next, Dust.” In the world of the poem what really happened doesn’t matter. It is all really happening in the world of the poem.

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A Conversation with Brenda Hillman

Brenda Hillman | photo by Brett Hall Jones

Brenda Hillman has published eight collections of poetry, all from Wesleyan University Press: White Dress (1985), Fortress (1989), Death Tractates (1992), Bright Existence (1993), Loose Sugar(1997), Cascadia (2001), Pieces of Air in the Epic (2005), and Practical Water (2009), for which she won the LA Times Book Award for Poetry, and three chapbooks: Coffee, 3 A.M. (Penumbra Press, 1982); Autumn Sojourn (Em Press, 1995); and The Firecage (a+bend press, 2000). She has edited an edition of Emily Dickinson’s poetry for Shambhala Publications, and, with Patricia Dienstfrey, co-edited The Grand Permisson: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood (2003). In 2010 she co-translated Jeongrye Choi’s book of poems, Instances, released by Parlor Press. She is the Olivia Filippi Professor of Poetry at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, California.

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INSTANCES cover

LR: What attracted you to rendering translations of Jeongrye Choi’s poetry?

BH: I met her at Iowa at the International Writers Workshop, and it proved to be interesting and fruitful to work on her poetry with the other students who had some knowledge of Korean. When I found out she was working in Berkeley the following year, we were able to continue working on her poetry, but I needed help from several other people to complete the project. Wayne de Fremery, a Harvard PhD candidate in Korean Studies who lives in Seoul, had met Jeongrye before and agreed to do the transliterating for me and LTI Korea backed us financially. Poet Gillian Hamel served as an advisor and helped produce the manuscript and Byungwook Ryu designed it. Jon Thompson at Free Verse Editions and Dave Blakesley at Parlor Press were also instrumental to this work.

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A Conversation with Kimiko Hahn

Kimiko Hahn, by Nancy Bareis

Kimiko Hahn is the author of eight books of poems, including: Earshot (Hanging Loose Press, 1992), which was awarded the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize and an Association of Asian American Studies Literature Award; The Unbearable Heart (Kaya, 1996), which received an American Book Award; The Narrow Road to the Interior (W.W. Norton, 2006) a collection that takes its title from Basho’s famous poetic journal; and Toxic Flora, poems inspired by science (W.W. Norton, 2010). As part of her service to the CUNY community, she helped initiate a Chapbook Festival that has become an annual event; since then she has published the chapbooks, Ragged Evidence and A Field Guide to the Intractable. Hahn has also written text for film, such as the 1995 MTV special, Ain’t Nuthin’ But a She-Thing; also, the text for Everywhere at Once, a film based on Peter Lindbergh’s still photos and narrated by Jeanne Moreau. Honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, PEN/Voelcker Award, Shelley Memorial Prize, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. She has taught in graduate programs at the University of Houston and New York University, and of course, in the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at Queens College, The City University of New York where she is a distinguished professor; also for literary organizations such as the Fine Arts Work Center, Cave Canem and Kundiman. Among her current projects: a collaborative translation of Japanese zuihitsu and new sequences triggered primarily by neuroscience.

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TOXIC FLORA

LR: In the latest issue of The American Poetry Review featuring 13 of your new poems triggered by articles on science, you speak of the power of lists and the poetic momentum that can be generated by them in the context of individual poems. In Toxic Flora as a whole, how did you maintain a sense of urgency and intensity while using the same kind of source material (NYT science articles) for each piece?

KH: These poems are from a new manuscript that I began late summer of 2009 [i.e. not Toxic Flora]. I was preparing the Toxic Flora manuscript for publication and thinking that I was finished with science—but suddenly realized that science, at least the exotic language and realm, was not finished with me. I returned to several articles in the Science section of The New York Times and gave myself the assignments as described in APR.

Over ten years ago I wrote a sequence based on various articles (i.e., from [the] Science section of The New York Times). I soon had so many poems that I realized it could become a whole collection. So I kept writing—maybe over a hundred—and at a certain point began seriously revising. Then while compiling a manuscript, [I] began seriously cutting poems that were too weak. I have described the particular process in a W.W. Norton online column: “A Poet and Her Editor”.

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A Conversation with Jenna Le

Jenna Le

Jenna Le was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the youngest child of two Vietnam War refugees. She obtained her B.A. in mathematics from Harvard University and her M.D. from Columbia University. Her first book of poetry, Six Rivers, was published by New York Quarterly Books in August 2011. Her poems and translations of French poetry have been published by Barrow Street, The Brooklyn Rail, The Nervous Breakdown, Post Road, The Raintown Review, Salamander, Sycamore Review, and other journals.

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LR: Many of the poems in Six Rivers riff on classical characters and themes while preserving a conversational use of language. Likewise, you often work in form while eschewing formal language. What do such dualities aim to achieve?

SIX RIVERS

JL: Many of the characters in Greek mythology seem quite real to me, especially the sorceresses like Circe and Medea, who in my mind embody the tragicomic situation of the 21st-century woman who is brimming with intellectual resourcefulness but who is still anguished by her dating troubles. Like, I see Circe as a sort of precursor to Napoleon Dynamite: although she had plenty of “great skills….like nunchuck skills, bow-hunting skills, and computer-hacking skills,” she was still totally hapless when it came to romantic relationships. This is such a thoroughly modern theme that it only makes sense for me to talk about it in colloquial contemporary English.

I use traditional verse forms for much the same reason: because I feel they have a lot of relevance to our modern-day plight. The tanka, for example, is a verse form that was historically used by aristocratic Japanese poets to treat such subject matter as clandestine assignations with illicit lovers. Well, I always thought it would be interesting to repurpose this verse form and use it to address contemporary sexual practices that really don’t differ all that much from ancient ones (“hooking up,” etc.).

LR: There is a strong geographical trope in your book with literal journeys along rivers that are both real and fictional. How do these journeys serve your narrative?

JL: Well, immigration and displacement played big roles in my family history. All the journeys in my book recapitulate that, in a way. And, in a way, it’s this small-scale recapitulation of a large-scale narrative of escape, of striking out on one’s own in an unfamiliar and sometimes hypo-oxygenated territory, that drives the narrative of Six Rivers.

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A Conversation with Jee Leong Koh

Jee Leong Koh
Jee Leong Koh

Jee Leong Koh is the author of three books of poems, including the recently published Seven Studies for a Self Portrait (Bench Press). His poetry has appeared in Best New Poets (University of Virginia Press) and Best Gay Poetry (A Midsummer’s Night Press), and in journals such as Cimarron Review and PN Review. Born and raised in Singapore, he lives in New York City, and blogs at Song of a Reformed Headhunter.

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LR: Seven Studies for a Self Portrait is divided into seven chapters, with seven poems in each chapter, and forty-nine in the last. What is the significance of the number seven?

SEVEN STUDIES FOR A SELF PORTRAIT
SEVEN STUDIES FOR A SELF PORTRAIT

JLK: Seven days in a week. The practice of writing a poem a day is important to me. The days when I don’t write feel empty to me, incoherent, lost. A day, like a poem, is invaluable for itself and also for being a part of something larger, like a week or a life. I wrote my first book Payday Loans, a series of 30 sonnets, in the month before I graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with my MFA.

One of my favorite poets, Philip Larkin, asks in a poem, “What are days for?” He answers himself, as poets have the habit of doing, “Days are where we live.” A day is an on-going project. At the moment I am reading Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. She speaks of Nietzsche’s will to power as a project of self-transcendence. When Larkin considers transcendence, he says in his typically sardonic manner that the question brings the priest and the doctor running. Because I have lost my faith in organized religion and have yet to place my life in the hands of medical science, I am working out my daily transcendence in writing poetry.

I wrote Seven Studies for a Self Portrait in two years. As I wrote, the number seven acquired and transformed its Christian meanings—the days of Creation, the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Eshuneutics, who reviewed my book, puts it well, “This silent structuring … evokes a tradition running from the mediaeval period and sets a context for the spiritual enquiries within the book.” Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, from which my book got its epigraph, was an inspiration for the post-Christian enquiry.

As vital as the spiritual quest was for me, so was the musical composition that the number enabled. A sequence of seven poems has not only a beginning and an end, but also a well-defined middle. It also breaks up into two unequal parts—four and three—half of the sonnet’s proportions. The first six sequences in fact culminate in two sonnet sequences, one English, the other Italian. Breaking through and re-working that framework is the final set of 49 ghazals, each made up of seven couplets about love. The ghazals raise, in my imagination, a 7 x 7 x 7 cube. In planning this structure, I was thinking very much of Herman Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, in particular, the last game that the Magister Ludi builds from the floor plan of a Japanese house.

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A Conversation with Oliver de la Paz

Oliver de la Paz is the author of three books of poetry: Names Above Houses, Furious Lullaby, and Requiem for the Orchard. He is the co-editor of A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry with Stacey Lynn Brown, and co-chair of the Kundiman advisory board. A recipient of grants from NYFA and the Artists’ Trust, his recent work has appeared in the New England Review, Sentence, the Southern Review, and elsewhere. He teaches creative writing and literature at Western Washington University.

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LR: Who were your earliest influences as a young poet? Was there a momentous decision to pursue this career?

OP: I’ve got a lot of early influences so I’ll name a number of firsts. My very first poetry book was The Selected Poems of Robert Penn Warren. When my parents first arrived in the U.S. they became subscribers to Readers’ Digest and part of the subscription deal was to receive three gift books with their subscription. One of the gift books was Robert Penn Warren’s book. So apart from my mother’s medical texts, I was pouring over Robert Penn Warren’s poems, not really understanding what was happening in them, but having a profound curiosity over the work.

The first poetry books that I ever purchased for myself were for a poetry class in college. I bought Galway Kinnell’s Book of Nightmares and Adrienne Rich’s Atlas of a Difficult World. The poetry collection that really opened my eyes to the sonic qualities a poem could have was Sylvia Plath’s Ariel. I still have the first two tercets memorized: “The Sunday lamb cracks in its fat./ The fat/ Sacrifices its opacity . . . ”

The first poetic influence that affirmed I could be a poet was Li-Young Lee’s first book, Rose. I was deciding between continuing a career in the sciences, or pursuing poetry. At the time, I was a care provider in a supported living home for the developmentally disabled and an EMT. I had a lot of time to read because the main client I worked with slept a lot due to the meds. So I read long into my shift. I imagine that was when I decided to pursue the life of letters. I wasn’t really excited about the lab work or the medical work I was doing, and I was feeling quite invigorated by all the poetry I was reading.

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Sulu Spotlight: A Conversation with Taiyo Na

Above: A Taiyo Na scrapbook. Shown here are Regie Cabico, Taiyo Na, Taiyo Na’s youngest fan, Ishle Yi Park, Beau Sia and Taiyo Na fighting a giant yellow _____ .

As the Sulu Series came to an end on September 19, 2010 to a packed house at The Bowery Poetry Club in New York, I sat down with Sulu’s artistic director, Taiyo Na, to try to understand what five years of Asian and Pacific Islander performing arts meant to him and to our community. Below is a recap of our conversation, which I hope will inspire other cities (like The Sulu Series in New York, Sulu DC and Family Style in Philadelphia, among others) to gather and find platforms for our unique voices.

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How did The Sulu Series begin in New York?

Two things really contributed to the formation of Sulu: Hurricane Katrina and the Boston APIA Spoken Word and Poetry Summit in 2005. After the Boston Summit there was a lot of good energy after a really great Summit. Regie [Cabico] felt like there needed to be a hub in New York City for Asian American artists. It was also because the Asian American Writers Workshop at the time felt like a less community-friendly space. Before that, the Asian American Writers Workshop was kind of that hub, so there was that factor. But then when Hurricane Katrina hit, it was like “Wow!” you know? It was a pivotal moment in the country of course, but also for a lot of us here because when they were covering Katrina we knew that there were a lot of Asian Americans down there in Louisiana and Mississippi and their stories weren’t being told and their needs weren’t being attended to. Sure, everybody was affected in that region. Everybody deserves the attention. But we wanted to do something in particular with the Asian American community to say, “You know, there’s a lot of Vietnamese folks there and they need help.” So we put together this benefit for those folks and the money went to the this group in Biloxi, Mississippi. That benefit kind of brought a lot of Asian American artists and organizations together and since then, we carried on Sulu. Regie was living in Williamsburg at the time and had a connection at Galapagos Arts Space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. And they were like, “Hey, we have these Tuesday nights open, do you want to take it once a month?” and I’m like, “Okay.”

Was it just you and Regie [Cabico] then?

No, no, no, it was a bunch of us. [DJ] Boo was there. There were other artists, too. Terry Park and Chaz Koba, Hanalei . . . and a bunch of others. Even at the Katrina benefit, I became one of the main sort of cultural connectors—people who have the contacts with the artists and brought the artists together. It just kind of became this natural thing for me to do the monthly Sulu curating too after that. We did, I think, the thing at Galapagos for maybe a year or so and then, things weren’t really workin’ out there. The location was Williamsburg and not Manhattan and it was hard for folks to get to and you know, the vibe was different. So when the Bowery Poetry Club . . . I forgot what happened. But, we did an event here. We did like a special Sulu at the Bowery Poetry Club. It had to do with triple A.S. (Asian American Studies Conference). It was happening one year in New York and it went really well, so we were like, “Oh, well let’s just have it here.” Beau Sia has a good relationship with Bob Holman and it just all organically came about. Bowery Poetry Club became the new home and it’s been our gracious home ever since (for the last three years or so).

What do you see as the state of affairs for AAPI poetry, specifically in New York but in the rest of the country, also?

The APA poetry community here . . . I mean, I’m not per se an expert, but I think with Kundiman, it’s great. What they do here is just phenomenal. What Joseph Legaspi, Sarah Gambito and Ron Villanueva and Pat Rosal and all those folks have done to build that organization up to a retreat that can have like 20-some poets every year to help nurture their talents, to have a monthly reading series, is great. I think they’re a little bit more of an older crowd, more of like an academic crowd, but that’s fine, there’s that. But I think spoken word per se if we were to kind of split poetry up into those two camps—more academic poetry and then spoken word poetry—spoken word poetry is real healthy. It’s more mainstream, so there’s less of kind of the underground stuff, you know? It’s bigger and more popular than ever.

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A Conversation with Barbara Jane Reyes

Barbara Jane Reyes
Barbara Jane Reyes

Barbara Jane Reyes was born in Manila, Philippines, and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She received her B.A. in Ethnic Studies at U.C. Berkeley and her M.F.A. at San Francisco State University. She is the author of Gravities of Center (Arkipelago Books, 2003) and Poeta en San Francisco (Tinfish Press, 2005), which received the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets. Her third book, entitled Diwata, is forthcoming from BOA Editions, Ltd. in 2010.

Her chapbooks, Easter Sunday (2008), Cherry (2008), and West Oakland Sutra for the AK-47 Shooter at 3:00 AM and other Oakland poems (2008) are published by Ypolita Press, Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, and Deep Oakland Editions, respectively. Her poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in Latino Poetry Review, New American Writing, North American Review, Notre Dame Review, XCP: Cross Cultural Poetics, among others.

She has taught Creative Writing at Mills College, and Philippine Studies at University of San Francisco. She lives with her husband, poet Oscar Bermeo, in Oakland.

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LR: I wanted to start by talking about history, which is something that figures strongly in your poetry—for example in Poeta en San Francisco we see historical references mixed in with local references to San Francisco (SF) and the Beat Movement. Can you start by talking about how both history and geography are incorporated into your work?

BJR: I grew up on the periphery of SF, meaning that I lived in the East Bay for most of my life in this country. The more I came to see other parts of the country, I realized that there’s something interesting about SF and its history of people coming from so many different places and colliding with one another. I know this happens in every major American city, but for me SF has this unique place on the cusp of the Pacific Rim […] When the westward movement got to the Pacific Ocean, it just kept going into the Pacific. Just think about major American wars in Asia in the 20th century, and SF being a very important strategic point, and then Honolulu, and then Manila. What that means for all those people that get cast aside and spit out of that system is that they all end up with this baggage that they’re aiming at one another. That’s SF for me.

LR: And in your own personal history when did this dawn come?

BJR: It really did happen in college, as an undergrad at UC Berkeley. I remember reading Frederick Jackson Turner’s “The Frontier Thesis,” where he talks about the American identity—and here he really means the masculine identity created as these men are forging West and dealing with the landscape—that makes the American man different from the English colonial subject. What my professor argued was that the wars in the Pacific, starting with the Spanish American War and the Filipino American War, were an extension of that creation of the masculine American, because there wasn’t anywhere else to go but the ocean. The Philippines were seen in the Filipino American War as the starting point for America to get into China and start its own empire.

When I was hearing these things lectured to me and as I was reading about them, what I was seeing in SF started to really make sense—what I was witnessing and experiencing as a Filipino girl growing up in the Bay Area, not being able to find any evidence of long time Filipino settlement there, even though now I know that there is a much longer history. I always kind of felt like that there had to be some reason why so many of us just kind of got plopped in the city. And a lot of it had really to do with that movement into the Pacific once the frontier ended.  Continue reading “A Conversation with Barbara Jane Reyes”

A Conversation With Mong-Lan

Mong-Lan and two of her book covers.

Mong-Lan is a Vietnamese-born American poet, writer, painter, photographer, and Argentine tango dancer and teacher.  Mong-Lan’s first book of poems, Song of the Cicadas, won the 2000 Juniper Prize from UMASS Press and the 2002 Great Lakes Colleges Association’s New Writers Awards for Poetry.  Her other books of poetry include Why is the Edge Always Windy?; Tango, Tangoing: Poems & Art, the bilingual Spanish / English edition, Tango, Tangueando: Poemas & Dibujos and Love Poem to Tofu and Other Poems (chapbook). A Wallace E. Stegner Fellow in poetry for two years at Stanford University and a Fulbright Fellow in Vietnam, Mong-Lan received her Master of Fine Arts from the University of Arizona.  Her poetry has been frequently anthologized, having been included in Best American Poetry, The Pushcart Book of Poetry: Best Poems from 30 Years of the Pushcart Prize; Asian American Poetry —The Next Generation, and has appeared in leading American literary journals. Her paintings and photographs have been exhibited at the Capitol House in Washington D.C.,  for six months at the Dallas Museum of Art, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, in galleries in the San Francisco Bay Area, and in public exhibitions in Tokyo, Bali, Bangkok, Buenos Aires and Seoul. Based in Buenos Aires, Mong-Lan travels frequently.  Visit: www.monglan.com

LR: You are both a visual artist and a poet, and both of these art forms have a strong presence in your books.  How have your sensibilities as a visual artist have influenced your poetry’s aesthetic?  Did you come to one through the other?  At what point did the two interests begin to intersect?

ML: My sensibilities as a visual artist have influenced greatly my poetry’s aesthetic.  The open field of the page is important to me, just as the blank canvas or white sheet of paper is to the visual artist.  When writing poetry, I think in spatial terms, not just linearly.  So, in this way, I concern myself with the placement of words on the page, using the way words bounce off each other, the connotation of words next to each other, above, below, to the right and left, and diagonal. In Tango, Tangoing, my latest book, you can read certain poems not only left to right, but down one column, then down another column.

I didn’t come to one art through the other.  A visual artist since childhood, I showed my artworks in Houston and then in San Francisco, where I flowered and came to mature as a visual artist in the very liberal atmosphere there.  At the same time, I was writing since high school, scribbling in journals my feelings, emotions, narratives, stories and things that I couldn’t depict visually in paintings.

Both poetry and the visual arts are twin sisters, and it’s easy for me to shift from one to the other.  I find that these arts complement each other.  And, so, there in San Francisco in the 90’s, I found myself as a poet as well as a visual artist, giving readings with other Vietnamese-American writers/poets.

LR: When you are putting together a collection of poems that will include visual artwork — how do you view the art in relationship to the text?  Do you see the art as illustrations of your poems? As a kind of visual poetry in and of itself?

ML: In my first two books, Song of the Cicadas and Why is the Edge Always Windy?, the text is primary, and the visuals secondary.  The artwork in both books were used more as appetizers and section dividers.  In Song of the Cicadas, I included pen and ink drawings that I drew when I was in Vietnam, the same time I was writing the book itself.  It just happened, naturally and synchronistically like that.

Because many people commented on my artwork in both books, I decided to include more of them in my next books.  In the chapbook, Love Poem to Tofu & Other Poems, and in Tango, Tangoing: Poems & Art, the artworks are very integral to the books, indeed [they] complement the text a great deal, although the texts can stand by themselves.  There are many more drawings/paintings in these latter two books—they’re more like entrees and not just appetizers.

The artworks in my books can stand by themselves; thus, they are not mere illustrations. Yet, they do illuminate the text and add another dimension to it.  Yes, I would consider my artworks a kind of visual poetry in and of itself.

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The Page Transformed: Achiote Press’s Visual Aesthetic (Q&A with Jason Buchholz)

Last week in our series “The Page Transformed: Part II – The Page as Canvas,” we spoke to poet Craig Santos Perez about his strategic use of visual elements like typesetting and illustrations in his poetry.  In this post, we’ll be focusing on his small press, Achiote, in order to learn how decisions about developing the nuts-and-bolts aspects of a book’s visual impact — like cover art and book design — are made.

Examples of Cover Art from Achiote Press
Examples of Achiote Press Cover Art

Achiote Press, a Berkeley-based press edited by Craig Santos Perez and Jennifer Reimer, publishes poetry and art in a range of print formats, including chapbooks, perfect-bound books, anthologies, and art books.  Each season, they put out limited-run editions of two single-author chapbooks and an issue of their unique publication, Achiote Seeds, which their blog describes as a “multi-author chap-journal.” Browsing through the beautiful covers on Achiote’s web site, one gets a sense of just how thoughtfully the design of each book has been selected in order to complement the work contained within. That Achiote has a dedicated Art Director, Jason Buchholz, is even more indicative of just how important the idea of a book as a physical art object is to the press.

We  asked Jason to talk to us about Achiote’s aesthetic vision and his role as the decisionmaker behind Achiote’s “look”.  Here’s what he had to say about his process:

“I allow our overall aesthetic to emerge from the works themselves. I read each manuscript carefully, in search of two things: recurring visual imagery, and a distilled sense of the overall emotionality of the work. In other words, I try to experience a manuscript as if it were a visual work, translating movement, change, and the other temporal qualities of writing into a single impression. I then look for an image that will match that impression, as well as the title.  The role of the title here can’t be understated – it’s the interplay of image and title that not only gives the book its initial impact,
but also creates an inescapable psychological context for reading the words inside. My primary goal with each cover is to ensure that this context remains true to the writer’s intentions. If I’m working on an anthology, I’ll try to match the unifying theme, rather than specific images or feelings. In those rare cases that we publish collections without strong themes, I simply use the opportunity to showcase a great piece of work I want the world (or at least our readership) to
see. Our overall aesthetic, then, is the sum total of all these book covers, plus my personal contributions of a simple logo and a dash of orange.

In the future I hope to produce more works that place art and writing on equal footing.  Just this week we released Her Many Feathered Bones, which sees an artist and a poet on equal footing, in a slow and deliberate dialogue in which neither art form is given precedence. To me this represents the beginning of a new aesthetic that emerges almost entirely from our artists and their work. In such cases, I will have very few decisions to make. My role will be that of front-row observer, part-time quality assurer, and occasional matchmaker.”

Thanks very much to Jason for taking the time to offer his thoughts to us, and to Craig Perez for passing our questions on to him. Please do take the time to visit Achiote’s web site and browse through the covers from their current list and archives — they are truly gorgeous, and are testament to the love, taste, and meticulous attention that goes into each of Jason’s design choices.

Jason Buchholz is an artist, writer, and editor living in El Cerrito, CA. Someday his work will be available at jasonbuchholz.com.