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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Design Components

As I cruised through the electronic publications for the literary section of duotrope, I found a few designs that I enjoyed and several more that were somewhat boring. I was surprised at the number of publications that were pulled up for me to sift through, and decided to randomly browse them in search of my favorite layout. It is exciting to think that our compilation of work can be part of a larger publication universe.

When I looked at a website’s design, I found myself dismissing many of them because they were boring or difficult to read. One example of a publication format that didn’t inspire me to read is Burst.
This issue is terribly dull. They published it in shades of gray and without anything to attract the reader. While I do believe in a simplistic approach, this among several other publications, took the idea too far. Minimalistic design makes a great impact, but it should be one of style as opposed to laziness. One fledgling publication who did this correctly is Precipitate.

The incorporation of art and soft, minimalist design is easy to pay attention to. I even liked the lack of bright color, to an extent. This design utilizes the value of empty space, instead of wasting it. I would adopt one aspect of the design for Trillium: the picture link. It is like giving a cover to your website. We all know not to judge a book by its cover and so on. Still, no writer would deny the impression that art and font have on the potential reader.
Of course, I don’t expect us to emulate Burst. We should be more concerned about producing a design like this one:

While Dappled Things has a neat and well composed design, it is not interesting. You might even find it a bit cheesy (a feature that is consistent in all issues). This is something to look out for when putting things together for Trillium. Nobody wants to delve deeper into something commonplace or dull.

As for publications I liked, I searched for nearly an hour without finding one I would consider emulating. Honestly, I think that I learned more from the ones that I disliked. They tell us what not to do, which is just as valuable. There are a few with aspects I appreciated, as in Precipitate, across a number of publications.
Here are some that stand out to me:

Instant City:
(Especially Instant City)

By the way, I am very happy that our magazine has a short and interesting name. Titles are important, and excessively wordy ones repel me like a nasty romance-fantasy book cover.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Shadows and Light!"

What makes visual art, good? How do we determine the quality of something subject to the viewer's aesthetic or intellectual preference? While there are no standards that apply to all art, we can develop our own based on generalizations. Hopefully, we can omit the poorly executed, boring, and unoriginal from our selections for Trillium. So the essential questions we need to ask are:

What does well executed art look like?
What makes it intriguing, provoking, or interesting?
What defines originality in the work?

A skilled artist’s work will show two elements of execution: time and dynamics. It is usually easy to tell, even in contemporary artwork, how much planning and process went into the work. As an artist, I can tell you that a lot of hours go into a single piece. Though it may seem like the art took minutes to create, the creation process begins in the musings of the creator, and can compensate for a less precise process. We should also keep in mind the dynamic value of the painting. Does it offer depth and values (shades of light and darkness)? Darkness and lightness can be represented with endless shades and colors, available to any artist. Those who utilize them create dynamic and attractive art. Dynamics may also refer to the subject and type of the art. A subject can be dull or incredible, depending on skill and style.

As for what makes the art “pop”, we need to banish all thoughts of bathroom decoration art. We don’t want another Thomas Kinkade just for the sake of pretty decoration, do we? Art should be intriguing. This could mean that it is uniquely aesthetic, provoking, confusing, sensual, texturally exciting… Any way of reaching the viewer counts. The important thing is to avoid mistaking symbols for art. If someone paints a skull with a rose in the eye socket, a great deal of style and remarkable execution are its only hope for redemption. A smiley face, Jolly Roger, hand or eye study… All of these are symbols and practice that should not pass for a finished piece. Especially to those with an artistic eye, these are as incomplete as a car with no body.

This also leaks into the originality factor. We should be looking for pieces that seem new. The artist’s style and imagination make it original, not his skill. There are very skilled painters who create illegal replicas of famous art to be sold as the original piece would sell. A replicated theme, subject, or entire piece might be incredibly well executed. However, it will always be an imitation or overdone concept, ruining the interest factor of the piece. We should not take such submissions seriously when there are creators out there with styles unimagined and new to the masses.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


To be honest, this class is not what I had expected it to be. I was somehow under the impression that "publishing" meant that I would be learning how to publish my own work. Not that I expected a class for simply producing a happy little self-made book, but I thought that there would be a great deal to do with the book publishing process. I don't know where this idea stemmed from, but I walked into the classroom wondering what I would try to write and publish, if only to learn about the process and the difficulties and rewards of being a writer.

Now that I see the class schedule and realize that Trillium will be the main point of curriculum, I am unsure about my expectations. That is not to say that I am not excited about my participation in our literary journal. I have actually done this before. I was a temporary editor for my high school's online journal the "Pen Dragon". If anything, I am less nervous and ready to dig in for the editing process. I know its benefits for my own writing, and plan to submit some myself to keep in practice for creative writing.

I hope to see a collection of arts and writings that make up Piedmont's best creative work. A strong focus on quality over quantity is important, and I hope that there are many submissions.

Our last journal was very neat and accessible, but I hope to work more on it's layout this year. After all, we are seeking to improve and grow, and I know a bit about .html and profile design.

In our submissions, I will be looking for well executed and interesting ideas. Anything to represent the newness of original work, outside of the cliche and trite. Hopefully enough submissions will come in that we can afford to be critical and still generous with the submissions we chose to publish.

Can You Write "Off the Subject?"

Upon reading the chapter "Writing off the Subject" from Richard Hugo's book The Triggering Town, I found myself wondering if it is possible to write off of your subject at all. This excerpt explains how switching into new ideas within the same poem is a proven method of creation. He also shows how stretching the topic with explanation can damaging. Certainly, if you are proving a thesis or composing a biography, then straying from the original point of the paper is unprofessional. However, I am concerned with the idea of going off topic in poetry.

"The question is: how to get off the subject, the initiating subject that is." (Hugo)

If I am writing an original poem, from my ideas and inspirations, then how can it be off subject? I may name it "Autumn Rain", as in Hugo's example, but does that nail it down as my subject? Sometimes I wonder if poetry is not based on the idea of presenting an expression without simply telling all the answers. I agree with a good deal of the constructive advice from the chapter, but find the idea of writing off the subject (while still in the creation process) hard to swallow. I may title a poem "Banana", discuss the nature of a bruised fruit and move on to the color of my bruise. From there I could write about falling from windows, considering my expertise in that area. Still, there are many other ways to continue the poem. I would tie in fruit before the end, but roam freely through other ideas until the poem felt complete. All the while, the subject is fluid and therefore impossible to stray from. I will tie anything to a banana, so long as my imagination or memory serves me, and I feel inclined to write the poem.

Now, I have to add that Hugo's eventual point in the chapter is to create new subjects from the "initiating subject". This idea is easier to grasp, though my initial reaction the the idea was premature disagreement. After closely reading the examples he provides, I understand the process that he outlines for the student poet.

"The point is, the triggering subject should not carry with it moral or social obligations to feel or claim you feel certain ways. "

This may not be the only purpose point in the chapter, but I came away with this one especially marked on my mind. I agree that poems with needy titles or subjects are difficult and offer less creative licence. When your subject comes before your express ideas about it, then how can the poem reveal anything worth sharing? A poet's communication with the reader, whether informative, transcendent, persuasive... any form should have freedom. The idea of artistic licence being a concern within a poem is ridiculous, but made real if you cling to a demanding subject. Were I to write about a controversial topic and keep it "politically correct" for my readers, the poem would serve no purpose.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

On "Awful Poems"

Writing, composing, or otherwise expressing our thoughts in an interesting way is inexplicable. It is a great deal easier to learn how not to write, and develop your voice and style from what you are made of. When you have something to say and do not chain it in trite and tired phrases, your style will carry through. Not everyone is a poet, but anyone who respects the process can produce real and interesting poetry.

“The less you talk about emotions in general terms, the better. The more you describe events and convey emotions, the more effective your writing will be.” (Kowit p.40)

How should I express without exuding sticky emotions? Nobody wants to read a pity piece or gaudy love claims. Somehow, I find myself embarrassed when thumbing through an outrageous poem, as if seeing the writer's nakedness through a lack of something important: skill. Real emotions do not look like red roses or blue. Steve Kowit expands upon this idea in his book, In the Palm of Your Hand. Particularly in a section titled, "Awful Poems", he shines a harsh light on poor poetry technique.

It is not a lack of feeling in the verse, but a terrible execution that clamps my jaw or burns my cheeks. I believe that anyone can have feelings translatable into poetry. However, the skill and devotion to execute something worthwhile accounts for at least half of the process.

“…the attempts at poetic syntax… are similarly artificial and unintentionally comic in their attempts to sound poetic. Far from being more genuinely poetic, such phrases have just the opposite effect: they create bathos and insincerity where the poet wants genuine feeling and believable expression.” (Kowit p.40)

Steve's advice concerns the cliché methods of writers who hide their message or expression in excess. I have to agree with him on this basic and true view of the common issues with dabbler poems. A recipe is not the sum of its spices, but the combinations of flavor. In poetry, an amateur uses preconceptions about verse syntax and rhyming to “spice up” his piece. Regardless of whether the poem contains his attempted expression, it will feel cumbersome to read.

Despite the soundness of the advice throughout “Awful Poems”, I found some of his ideas to be subjective; particularly the section on “Inappropriate Imagery”. He states that the images used in an example poem within “Awful Poem” are incongruent with the poem’s theme. However his criticisms of a “boatless winter lake” were narrow. As the reader, I had no trouble picking up on the writer’s intent with this image of sadness and stillness. I did not enjoy the poem as a whole for multiple reasons, but the sparse imagery was applicable where it could be found.