Smaller Still: The Process of the Petit Four

The miniature poems I have been calling Petit Fours were inspired by the french pastry by the same name: a small often square multi layered bite sized dessert sometimes garnished with a bow or flower.

The Petit Four process came out of a realization that people don’t really like reading long poems. There’s a fatigue that sets in around line 20 or 25, or at least it does for me. Even as a Poetry Editor I had trouble with longer pieces… sometimes they were vague, other times they went on tangents that bored me. As a reader and lover of poetry I had to be honest with myself — long works are kind of hard to follow unless done expertly.

It’s the same reason I haven’t gone back to edit my longer poems, I don’t know where to start. So instead of continuing to write poems which toed that line between middle-length and unbearable, I decided to commit to a project that was both rewarding and bite sized.

& thus the Petit Fours were born.

If you want to read up on what inspired them, you can find that here:

Petit Fours: Tiny Poems with a Bite

May 6, 2015

I have a great affinity for short poems because of their structure, They belong to a class of poetry that still follows rules. Not that poems need to have rules: being free is one of my favorite parts of poetry. No, I linger on haikus and couplets for their puzzle-like structure, with every word serving a small perpetual function. I didn’t want to have rules for my poems in a traditional sense.

Instead I developed a simple format to make them consistent:

petit four grid image
(as you can see Microsoft Word doesn’t agree with some of my made up words!)

The format was simple: fit the poem within the space.

I gave myself about 5 lines with each poem (some got 6) and made the page a 3 column format to give myself enough room to see them all at once. You can easily adjust the column width at the top with the rulers, so I was able to make them a little wider as words required.

Then it was go time!

I wrote 12 at a time depending on the mood. I have only done 24 of these total, so I assume eventually they will feel repetitive. The other fun part was adding space to fill out the square. I felt very open and free when writing them… I could capture a small concept in the given space without muddying it with my usual over explanation.

The next part was harder. I made small squares in Photoshop and then imposed images in various transparency to make the poem feel fully formed. In the process of moving them the spacing and lines were adjusted to fit the new font. I lost a little of the squareness but gained a visual element. I think if I planned to print these I would stick to just text… but the internet is a fun place and I didn’t want to seem drab!

So that’s all there is to it!

Ingredients:

1 WordDoc split into 3 Columns

12 Poems by 5 Lines each

Add Images & Flare as desired

Hope you try something similar and let me know how it goes! They were fun and fast – a good warm-up to larger pieces or a nice do-one-every-day committment size!

Keep Writing!

–ECW

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Bookbinding 2: Make your Bed.

Hello Readers, 

The bookbinding post was so wildly popular that I decided to also include some images and tips from my journal-making experience. 

If you’re anything like me, poetry is a great love, but not the only love. I also enjoy painting. For me, poetry is the waking art, the one I try for, the one I perfect. Painting, or other types of visual designs, are the absent art, the one I do to calm me, in persuit of ambient inspiration. For some people this ambient art is music, others just go for a jog. It made sense to make a space where I could do both, write and paint, in a non-invasive way. For that, I needed paper that would not curl under water-color or buckle under acrlic. So I needed a cold press journal. And I would have to make that. 

journal1

Here are my thoughts on journals, now that I’ve made one:

1. Making a journal is personal. I get to pick the cover (paper used was from Paper Source, which just opened a store in Las Vegas) and make the pages from the type of paper I need. I wanted to have something I could paint, and so I didn’t need to spend $30 on a bound book or have loose sheets. I also got to decide how large I wanted it, which is something I always struggle with when choosing a book that always ends up having too many pages.

2. Building a book is like making your bed. It’s yours. I strongly believe that poetry is a vertical experience. We have an experience and then we write about it. But what if it was more than that. The experience was one you personally had, and then you thought about it, and wrote that poem in your own journal, that you made with your hands. First hand account on your own piece of art. It’s almost poetic and we haven’t started writing yet!

3. Poetry Gets Hands On. In my last post about bookbinding I talked about poems being very removed for me. I had forgotten how much I love writing things by hand. I miss writing and not typeing. I miss the permanence, even in draft form, of pen. It seems delliberate. It seems real. It also takes a hands-on experience to sew a book. There are awl punches and dangling needles and fidgety cardboard. It’s not always the simplest task, but it’s real. 

I find that I write different things when I plan to paint beside them. My poems really do conform them to their space. I tend not to write onto a second page or go outside the lines. I wonder what that says about me as a poet, about what poetry does to the spaces it encounters. 

So here are the numbers. 

$10 for the pages and cover (all in one of those artist pads at Michaels) – I only used half of the pages, it was just too many once they were all folded. 

$3 for the cover paper from Paper Source, they have lots of kinds 

$3 Rubber Cement

$0 for the inner paper and the pocket (I already had some scrapbook paper, it was in a pack of cardstock paper)

$6 for the hemp string (Paper Source), but there were 100’s of feet of it, and I’ll surely use it again! 

And I watched the same video by SeaLemon, which was helpful for the poetry book, and super great for the journal. (I used half of the paper, since water color paper is super thick when cold pressed). 

TIPS: The video will not show you how to cover the book with paper. It’s super easy. Take the cardboard and cover one side with a thin layer of rubber cement. Let dry. Take the paper and also apply a thin layer of rubber cement and let dry. Bring together. The dry rubber cement will stick better and faster than wet glue or wet rubber cement. Repeat for inner side.

 

For the corners, cut the extra cover paper to 1″ from the board. Then fold in the triangle of the corner, sticking with dried rubber cement on both sides. Then, fold over the 1″ margin once you have applied rubber cement on both the board and the paper and let dry. You’ll be amazed! For the inside, I used a piece of paper 1″ shorter than the board in height and length, affixed the same way as the other paper. 

Make sure that the holes are punched through the cardboard first and then later through the paper as you cover the sides. That way, you will have an easier time getting through the thick material, and it will be cleaner when finished.

That’s all for now. I hope you all make a journal and love it and fill it with hand crafted poetry goodness. 
Keep Writing, Start Binding!

 

Bookbinding: Skills a Poet Needs

Hello Readers,

Sorry I have been a little absent. My dear friend started a literary journal where I am an editor and I started a new job at the reference desk at my library (yay adulthood!). In other words, like all of you out there in internet land, I don’t know where the time goes, but it must be lost in the couch, with the spare change from my jean pockets and all the good intentions I had of being more productive.

I had the pleasure of celebrating the fiftieth birthday of a former art teacher this past week and was wracked with what to get her. What do you make the person who first inspired you to be an artist? Well, you give her some art.

That’s what everyone else did. She got paintings and photos and sculptures. Her party was a painting party where we all made a small canvas she organized as a mural. It was pretty epic.

I decided to challenge myself and make a Coptic stitch book of my poems. For some reason I thought this would be easy. I was, of course, deeply wrong. Coptic stitch is hard, but thankfully the internet is full of tutorials including a Poets and Writers Chapbook Tutorial with pictures and a wonderful bookmaker named Sea Lemon and her perfectly simple Coptic Stitch video.  It was pretty do-able.

Here are some photos from my experience: coptic-stitch-book-images

My puppies are in the middle: one curious, one bored.

The book was fun. I ended up making four of them: one for my teacher, one for my mom, one for my grandmother on my father’s side and one for my grandfather on my mother’s side. I found making them in two’s took minimally more time and made for a quicker learning curve.

All Poets Should Bind Books. 

There were some key things I had never thought about before this project that I know made me more selfaware.

1. Books are Big.

I normally group my poems in families of ten or fifteen. In fact, I was unable to actually fill the space P&W wanted in the book (72 pages). Instead, I made it work with headers and bump (blank) pages. I had no idea how much content was needed to fill an actual book, and now I will look at my collection (which I thought was huge) with more humility.

2. Organization is a Challenge

The book was too big. So I decided to make it up into 10 smaller books of five or six poems each. This took up several pages and also allowed me to subdivide the collection into smaller groups. But what would they be? What theme? What order? I imagined they would all fit together, but no, they are all over the place, I have no theme for my collection.

3. Stuff Doesn’t Fit Well

I have been hanging on the idea of ‘skepticism’ in my earlier chapbooks. The poems that I chose went along with this sense of surprise in ordinary moments, but that didn’t go very deep into the collection. I was in need of something different, something bigger.

The collection is called Lucid Dreaming, and the books are named after the ten-ish steps of actually having a lucid dream. 

I needed to take a step back and think about what would fit the whole group rather than just the ten books individually. It made me think of writing essays in college, picking a topic big enough, with enough depth and content to get a 20 page paper out without being redundant. Lucid dreaming was actually something I go pretty good at during college and looking back it fits the poems perfectly. It is both tangible and ephemeral, with a strong sense of self and no sense of place, just like the voice in most of my poems.

It was also unrelated enough to inform the poems without stealing their thunder. It cradled the poems that seem stranger than reality and made fantastic the poems that are too near to reality. I had to step outside my own mindset to make the poems work together.

4. Real Life is Messy

It’s been a while since I was wrist deep in rubber cement. I had forgotten how gritty reality can be. Poetry, for me, had become this alternate, bodiless at times, existance with a shiny screen and a slick clicking keyboard. It wasn’t real. It meandered from my mind onto a surface I could neither touch nor fathom. But books are real. And so are sewing needles and paper cuts and spilled glue and knotted up thread. It was a rush of reality to my otherwise unworldly typings, a long overdue splash of life.

 

Books are beautiful.

 

Sewing is like the lungs when the breath absent-mindedly.

 

I had no idea how satisfying and deeply moving making my own books would be. I am obsessed. I encourage you all to either look at these tutorials or consider making books on your own. It made me reconsider what poetry means for me, and what I want to be as a poet. Plus holding a book of you is a sobering feeling.