We can't wait for the upcoming launch of Sheet Music, a 6-poem chapbook by Robert Fanning, with illustrations by the author, published by Three Bee Press. The edition is limited to 150 signed and numbered softcover copies, hand-bound and hand-printed on Rives Heavyweight Buff paper. Sounds amazing, right? You can see for yourself at the launch celebration for Sheet Music on Saturday, April 2, at 7pm here at GLCL. Zachary Tomaszewski, GLCL's Events and Special Projects Coordinator, had the opportunity to interview both poet Robert Fanning and Three Bee Press publisher Greg Wahl. Here's their conversation:
ZG: For starters, who are you? Where do you hail from and what sort of things, casual and profound, are you interested in?
Robert: I'm a poet and Professor of English at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, MI, where I've lived since 2008. Prior to CMU, I was a Managing Director for InsideOut Literary Arts Project in Detroit for 8 years. I am compelled toward poetry but adore music and would rather be a musician if I had time. I am a hack on the guitar, but it gives me great pleasure regardless. In my next life, I will be a monk; I'm enamored with Buddhist thought and texts. My family provides my greatest sense of joy and peace. For the rest of this lifetime, I will have achieved great success if I raise my children to be healthy, happy, inspired, passionate and curious adults.
Greg: Robert and I are both from the same area in Michigan. We were at the same high school in the late 80s. Robert was a year or two ahead of me. I didn't know him particularly well at that time, though we did have several mutual friends, largely bound by similar tastes in music. Robert and I later became housemates in Ann Arbor as students at the University of Michigan. That's when we discovered a shared appreciation for literature. We both got our undergrad English degrees there. I went on to work mostly in marketing/communications, in Chicago and Detroit, while cultivating a healthy bibliophilia and a growing interest in visual arts.
ZG: How did Three Bee Press come into existence and who is behind it? Additionally, what is the presses mission and where are you based? Also, what equipment are you using in the studio?
Greg: Three Bee Press happened as a result of years of admiration for small press publications and book arts in general. Bookstores are my happy place, and I've been lucky to have had an abundance of dusty sanctuaries within my orbit over the years. When browsing the stacks, the volumes that often piqued my curiosity were the really small books hidden in between the big hardcovers and mass-produced paperbacks. In particular, limited edition small press poetry books. Despite their diminutive stature on the shelves, they often have some of the best paper quality, type and artwork of anything in the store. Discovering and collecting small press publications over the years eventually lead to the idea of creating something similar with my own endeavor.
Another influence is the work of Black Sparrow Press. When I was in college in Ann Arbor, I spent a lot of time at Dawn Treader Book Shop on Liberty Street. I believe most of the Black Sparrow publications at the time were printed in Ann Arbor, and area shops like Dawn Treader had a lot of their books on the shelves. Black Sparrow's books were designed by publisher John Martin's wife, Barbara, and she did an amazing job with them, despite being totally self-taught at book design.
Three Bee Press currently consists of myself and my sister, Elizabeth, who has been making books by hand for a decade or so. The actual printing is done by me, on very old press equipment at Signal-Return in Detroit's Eastern Market, and Elizabeth is teaching me binding techniques.
ZG: What were some discoveries you made in the process of arranging this manuscript and setting it into print? I understand that Robert illustrated some of the book. How did that idea surface? Furthermore, what yielded certain decisions in the pressroom, regarding type and paper and the materiality of the book?
Greg: The first discovery I made in this process is how time-consuming letterpress printing can be. Each page is printed by hand by rolling a large cylinder over printing plates, and when you’re making 150 copies of each page, the process is laborious, but in kind of a meditative way. You get in the zone, and hope the machinery cooperates with your momentum. Part of the beauty of letterpress books is the time, exactitude and craftsmanship that are applied to their creation, as well as the mistakes. Each copy of Sheet Music is somewhat unique. Some of them have a little smudge here or there, a fingerprint maybe, or a page crease from the giant paper-cutting guillotine.
I chose the paper, Rives Heavyweight Buff, after consulting with Lee Marchalonis, the current Printer in Residence at Signal-Return. The type was mostly my choice, though Robert helped with some of this.
I wanted the book to be more than just text. I love visual art, and more specifically the matching of art with text, so I visualized the book as a half-dozen or so poems, each with a complementary image on the facing page. I had no idea Robert would provide the art as well as the text. I initially thought Robert’s wife Denise might do the drawings, since she's a seasoned visual artist. Robert produced some excellent illustrations. Some of the texture of the original artwork gets lost in translation due to the process of making photopolymer plates for the printing press, but the results look great on the paper.
Robert: I was so thrilled when my good old friend Greg Wahl told me about Three Bee Press and expressed interest in my book being his inaugural publication—I knew I wanted to feature a slice of Severance in this chapbook. I decided to call it Sheet Music, which is one of the many recurring images and metaphors from the book. I am incredibly excited about Sheet Music, knowing it has been designed, printed and made by hand--by hands I know, those of my good friend Greg and his sister, in Detroit, a city I love. As for this chapbook and the larger manuscript, Severance, l can safely say that no matter what I write going forward, and regardless of whether the full collection is ever published, I will consider Severance one of my most instructive, fulfilling, and frankly favorite bodies of work. Writing the book was a profound experience, a rebellion against myself as an individual and as a writer. A rebellion against everything I'd believed to date as a poet and teacher. It's the first time I truly silenced myself and let a voice come through me. It was a primal experience to compose the text, and it still enlivens and frightens me to read it.
As for the drawings--that was Greg's idea, but I was really excited by the idea because it was terrifying. I have no training in visual art but admire it and love to scribble in my journal sometimes. For these drawings, I had hoped to be less literal--but they are sketches of recurring themes in the book: scissors, fish, crucifixes, gears, a puppet's arm disassembled at the elbow.
"Eventually we realize we are both singer and song, and that we can move and dance despite, or maybe even because of, constraint." -- Robert Fanning
ZG: What is this book all about? How did you come to orient it?
Robert: In winter, 2010, I slipped and fell on ice and the impact was severe enough that my elbow punctured my flesh, but amazingly my arm was not broken. That evening, sitting at my writing desk in a sling, I got the image of a tangled puppet, a marionette fallen off-stage. The image was inspiring, so one-armed as I was, pecking with one hand, I began that night the first few of a deluge of poems that would come to be called Severance. This is a linked collection of poems taking as its core metaphorical plot the escape of two marionettes, Professor and Grief, who sever their lines and escape the theater. The poem is a journey sequence that raises a myriad of philosophical, political, spiritual and aesthetic inquiries, some being: the role of the individual, the relationship of artist to audience, the potential for the agency of individuals within tightly wound and mass-governed systems. The manuscript's arc operates within a liminal state, beginning with evening and ending with morning, beginning on "stage" and moving across water to a "shore," and engages with many concepts and themes, though prominent are questions of loss and death, identity, religion, and others. Sheet Music, the chapbook published by Three Bee Press, comprises the first six poems in Severance, and includes drawings by the author, that were requested by the editor to accompany the poems.
ZG: What, ultimately, are both of you trying to say as a creators, as human?
Robert: If I knew what I wanted to say, I wouldn't need to write. But let me at least say what this little book Sheet Music is saying: We are caught and strung by many external forces and wires, but eventually we learn to see where those wires end and we begin. Eventually we realize we are both singer and song, and that we can move and dance despite, or maybe even because of, constraint.
Greg: My hope is that publications made with care and rarity of materials, with elements of the human touch, will continue find an appreciative audience. Finely crafted paper and hand-printed text will always have an advantage over digital and mass reproduction in terms of the tactile and aesthetic qualities of the book as an object.
With Three Bee, it's about enhancing the experience of words by regarding text as artwork and honoring the writing by hand-printing it all on fine art paper. When I was in high school and college I worked as a cook at a few different restaurants, and I learned the importance of dressing the plate as a complement to the quality of what the plates held. You feed the eyes before the belly, and with books we aspire to the feeding of eyes and hands as much as the mind.
ZG: What's next for each of you?
Robert: After the publication of my chapbook Sheet Music on Three Bee Press, I have a new full-length collection coming out in February 2017 from Salmon Books in Ireland called Our Sudden Museum. Meanwhile, I hope to publish Severance, and I'm busy at work on a new project entitled Man Carrying a Corpse, about a man named Man, carrying a corpse named Corpse. It too is a thrilling departure. Beyond the horizon, I'm beginning to turn my attention toward another collection that is far more constrained formally though a bit more open thematically. It is a seed in the ground right now.
Greg: I would like to produce a small volume of work by Bill Knott, an underappreciated Michigan poet and painter who sadly passed away not long ago. Robert has some of Bill’s unpublished work, and I’d like to explore some of that for publication, if possible. Almost all of Knott’s books are criminally out of print. Apparently Thomas Lux is editing a larger volume of his selected poems, which portends a small wave of posthumous Bill Knott appreciation in the near future.
Going forward, I'd really like to explore collaborations between visual artists and poets for broadsides and a some more small chapbooks. Further down the road, I'll be looking for manuscripts of (preferably) Michigan poets and fiction writers that Three Bee can publish in larger volumes. While the core focus of Three Bee Press is small letterpress editions, I will likely outsource some of the printing in order to offer an increased number and variety of publications in the future.
During the month of February, we were honored to be a part of the Great Michigan Read here at GLCL. We offered Write-In Sessions, a Community Book Discussion, and a Poetry Roundtable, all inspired by Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. We're so pleased to be able to offer the works of two of our Members who participated in our Great Michigan Read celebration: Nellie deVries and Phillip Sterling.
by Nellie deVries
— found poem from Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
consider the snow globe consider
mind invented miniature storms
the factory worker who turned plastic into white flakes
watched the globe glide past
consider the white glove
it’s a pleasing weight in the palm of her hand
it’s like looking into a storm when the two moons
float side by side on the surface
the underwater shine of a glass greenhouse
blurred a string of overlapping halos
little bits of translucent plastic, clinging,
brushing against his skin.
falling fast shimmering in blue-white light
the brilliance of the stage
certain qualities of light that blur the years
he held the glass lump
heard a shimmer of harp music
the bird’s heart had stopped in the palm of his hand
faltered and went still
here look at this pretty thing
a smooth lump of glass with storm
about the size of a plum
dead weight in the palm of her hand
for a moment a planet
that can chart a course through galaxies
it is always sunset or twilight or night
a moth brushed up against the glass
Nellie deVries is a Member of Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters. She has had three books published by Baker Book House, and her poetry has been published on 55project.blogspot. When she isn't working as a nurse, she enjoys walking and biking with her husband.
by Phillip Sterling
“...adulthood’s full of ghosts.”
—Dahlia to Clark, Station Eleven (Chapter 26)
“...not even ghosts show up at their windows, only sand.”
—William Olsen, “Sand Theory”
Absent of people, these beachside summer houses
are absent of ghosts. Lucky structures! Their view
is heavenly: thermal glass bereft of pain, worry,
purpose, the sand in their make-up mellow and discrete.
For residents, however, it’s something else. Live long enough
and ghosts multiply like scads of undergrads crashing
a frat party. Here’s your sister, lush and vine-like,
clinging to the gawky drunken geek whose fellowship
(with tortured rats in the science lab) is nothing to write
home about—she’s hoping he will drag her like homework
back to his room; here’s your brother retooling his bong,
his PVC. Your tone-deaf stepfather’s the DJ; your mother,
a life-long prohibitionist, tends the bar. There is no cover,
no need for fake IDs. These are best years of your life:
air thick as smoke, weighty with memory, congealing
like burned syrup. Take a whiff! Heaven or Hell?
Ghosts will be everywhere you turn—ghosts
who are not afraid of death, or taxes, or ruin, or even love.
Ain’t it great to be alive! they will sing to you,
as they avoid vacant beach houses like the plague.
Phillip Sterling’s most recent book is In Which Brief Stories Are Told, a collection of short fiction (Wayne State University Press). He is also the author of the poetry collection Mutual Shores and three chapbook-length series of poems (Significant Others, Quatrains, and Abeyance) and editor of Imported Breads: Literature of Cultural Exchange. Amonghis awards are a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, two Fulbright Lectureships (Belgium and Poland), a P.E.N. Syndicated Fiction Award, and a number of Pushcart Prize nominations (for poetry and nonfiction prose). Professor Emeritus atFerris State University, where he founded and coordinated the Literature in Person (LIP) Reading Series, Phillip spent much of August 2014 on Isle Royale as part of the National Park Service artist-in-residency program. He currently lives in Lowell.
This program was funded in part by Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Fresh Ink BLOG
Musings, news, and information about the writing life in the Great Lakes region.
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