Visit to University of Maine Machias

In October, Bernie Vinzani and Tessa Mellas were kind enough to bring me up to the University of Maine Machias to work with students in their unique English, Creative Writing, and Book Arts undergraduate program. I met with students one-on-one to discuss their writing, demonstrated typesetting to the book arts class, and Bernie and I designed and printed broadsides for selected student poems. I handset type for some of the broadsides, using type from UMM's collection, which we printed on site. I digitally designed for others so that Bernie and I could hand make paper for those. I was very impressed with the quality of thought and intention that Machias students put into their work.

UMM has gorgeous facilities to support unique coursework, including letterpress printing, papermaking, bookbinding, and electronic publishing. I was so grateful to get a chance to visit.

Poem by Sam Hemenway

Poem by Sam Hemenway


Denver Quarterly will be publishing five (five!) of my poems from the manuscript I have been shopping around. 

Crab Orchard Review will be publishing a poem from my next manuscript, in what will be their second-to-last print issue, the "Family, Enemies, and Friends: The Relationships Issue," before they move online. Consider ordering the last two print issues to show your support of the esteemed review. Editors Allison Joseph, Carolyn Alessio, and Jon Tribble are working hard on the transition, and keeping readers and writers informed.

Graveyard House Thesis -- Complete!

When last I wrote, this book was just a mockup. I successfully defended my thesis, Wendy Rebinding Wendy, on March 30, 2015, and then held a public presentation and gallery opening that afternoon. I'm proud to say that you may now call me Emma Sovich, MFA2, because I have two masters in fine arts degrees from the University of Alabama: one in Book Arts (2015) and one in Creative Writing (2014).

This fall, thanks to Steve Miller and Anna Embree, I have been teaching at the University of Alabama, while the inimitable Steve has been on sabbatical, making books at Penland and raising puppies. I've had the incredible opportunity to teach two letterpress classes, Print 1 and Print 3, and a boxmaking class, fresh out of my degree program. More on that in another post: back to Wendy Rebinding Wendy:

The book opens four different ways, and is remarkably difficult to photograph. Here is a shot of one cover, along with the box behind it.

And here is a shot from the side. There's a board down the middle that separates the two textblocks. The interior is also a delightful bouquet of color compared to the practically tweed (yet utterly luscious in person) Japanese bookcloth. These first three photos were taken by Alana Baldwin.

The book consists of four intertwined poetry narratives; each of the four sections is related to and interacts with the others, but the reader can (and must) begin where the reader decides. There are linear narratives within each section, but no one narrative takes priority.

The book is a lot easier to hold with two hands. It's also a quite intimate size, about 6" by 4". 

I had four last pages, so I took great joy in spreading the colophon across all four. The paper, which I made by hand last fall, varies in thickness and translucency throughout the book. You can see the back of a poem in the photo below.

I hope to update this blog again soon as I adjust to juggling teaching and making and documenting.

Life as Thesis

It turns out that really really thin paper is gorgeous but very difficult to cut square (at least when the board shear is a little dull).

Here's the Ferguson Gallery at University of Alabama, empty; in the second half of March it will be home to my Creative Project show. Honestly, the gallery show is the biggest unknown for me. I've never had to put one together before. 

This skeptical lady is my Dragon Age: Inquisition character. We killed some dragons over break, but now we're taking some time apart, because, well, thesis. She's not as grumpy about it as she looks.

Printing a 60-folio book involves a lot of planning. I wish I had done this part in a journal, because it would look prettier, but I plan better with lots of space and sheets of paper I can crumple and damage and then lose, requiring me to re-plan and triple-check.

The yellow stuff here is photopolymer, which I use to print. These particular plates are for images.

My cat would not let me take a puzzle break. (He thinks the puzzle pieces hide treats.)

I am just about done printing. I'm making a mockup before I call it and move on to cutting down and binding. Image printing in action:

The process of printing gets me every time. I mean just look at that!

Thesis Parade

My book arts thesis is coming along swimmingly, sloshingly, pulpily.

I have made approximately 250 sheets of paper, and I have at least another 50 to go for text sheets. I'll need another 100-150 for endsheets.

I'm also in the process of working out the problems of the binding structure I have my heart set on using, which means making another mockup. I'm sewing this mockup on cords and tapes...

Poetry Update

Some news from my poet-self:

I have three poems online at Paper Darts, and they are illustrated beyond my wildest dreams by Paper Darts artist Seth Young. Thank you, Seth. 

These three poems are part of my first chapbook, forthcoming from dancing girl press this fall. 

I have another poem in the latest Beecher's Magazine, from my Paphos/David/Metharme/Venus series. The journal is quite well-made, and has some sexy attention to detail (check out the rounded corners). I especially like the cover paper and end sheets. Thanks, Beecher's team!

Other publications with my work that have come out since my last poetry post (back in January) include... 

And I can't remember if I've thanked Hayden's Ferry Review  or Parcel here. I love them.

One of my older poems, which I had not had published in a journal because I gifted it to my father, has made it to the side of a building in Highlandtown, a neighborhood in Baltimore, MD (my hometown). Check it:

I don't know who that lady is, but she seems as excited as I am. The poem is maybe 10, 11 feet tall!

And it's paired with some lovely sketches by my dad, Randy Sovich


You would think that now that I have my official Master of Fine Arts degree in hand, I'd be able to lay around all day watching TV with the cats. (Their favorite soap is "Flight of the Carpenter Bees")

But I've been pretty busy snooping around an abandoned house in Bermuda...

...eating cannoli in Waltham, MA, visiting my poem (!!) in Baltimore, MD... and now cutting up and cooking this raw cotton fiber.  Soon I'll be making at least 300 sheets of abaca-cotton paper for my Book Arts thesis. This is a 14 lb bag of cotton fiber, next to my 14 lb cat on an ottoman of indeterminate weight.

I can only fit about 2 lbs of cotton in a big ol' pot to cook, and each batch has to cook for at least 4 hours. I've got my work cut out for me!

One MFA down, one to go.

While I was in Michigan a few weeks ago for the utterly fantastic Paper and Book Intensive, I got an official-sounding email from my university stating that my MFA defense was approved and my degree conferred.

Which is all really exciting, mostly because now I can turn my attention wholly to my final year of Book Arts. You know, now that I've spent two weeks enjoying Michigan birches along a lagoon and experiencing a lot of firsts.

Making this book from scratch in a class on Anabaptist binding with the ambitious Chela Metzger and Erin Hammeke... Just to give you a sense, here, we started with a textblock, but did everything from there: punched, sewed on raised cords on a sewing frame, consolidated and lined the spine, shaped wooden boards, adhered them to the textblock, shaped them some more (I'd never planed before, and certainly never while the boards were on the book), speckled the textblock edges, covered in gorgeous calf leather provided by Pergemena (my favorite leather tanner)... then cut and dapped and bossed brass for corner and center pieces, and created these nifty, weird spine straps, and even made, from scratch, catchplates and hasps for the clasps (which we were never promised, but begged and pleaded until Erin showed us how to use an anvil, two different vice jaws, a peen hammer for riveting, and a jewler's saw)....

I'd never cut into leather after covering with it before. It's a violent, yet oddly delicate process:

But necessary for the insertion of catchplates for clasps (if you don't want your crummy metal snipping to show):

I'd never dapped and bossed before, and certainly never dapped and bossed directly into a block of lead. I present: The Moon.

These are my brass corner and centerpieces, all ready to be attached to the book:

And I'd never made a book with straps before. Isn't it strapping? The straps are attached just past the shoulders, so when you open the book, they pop off the book.

I'd never before paddled in a canoe across a lagoon to Lake Michigan to watch the sunset with new friends.

In Priscilla Spitler's class on edition binding, I learned many time-saving techniques that will help me when I edition my thesis book (and every other book I edition hereafter). It's one thing to know that jigs are helpful. It's another to get a good sense of how to come up with a jig to get the job done, and to understand when you might be able to use a jig in the first place.

I had never made a sheet of paper quite this large before taking Ann Marie Kennedy's Paper and Place class. This sheet about as large as a decent flat-screen TV. I'd also never used so many different fibers at once before... certainly addictive! We had vats of hemp, flax, abaca, bamboo, and various mixtures that included onion grass, day lily leaves, dried lagoon grass, and more.

I had never taken a selfie while hula hooping before.

And here's an endband Sam Feinstein showed us for PBI PM, an informal workshop we managed to get together twice (amazing, considering how much homework we had and how much sleep we needed).

I made a ridiculous amount of new friends, too. The book arts world is a tight-knit one, where it seems everyone is eager to share and teach and learn and relearn and watch and make ridiculous paper costumes and dance to 50s music in them.

Cooking for 1 for the week

I got a taste for lamb korma a year or so ago, after boyfriend and I visited a warm little Indian restaurant near Boston. I can't get good lamb korma in Tuscaloosa, so when I got back, I looked up recipes that might be simple enough to make as a first-time curry.

This recipe over on Serious Eats, adapted from At Home with Madhur Jaffrey, is almost as simple as it can get.

However, I made a few tweaks to streamline the cooking. I can throw this together in an hour and a half or so on a Sunday evening, like tonight, including clean-up, and have a warm dinner... and lunches for the entire week. It's also nice that a lb of lamb shoulder is only $5, at least down here in Ttown.

Changes: I love almonds, but raw cashews are softer to begin with, and so I can soak the cashews for only a few minutes -- as opposed to Jaffrey's a few hours. I also can't afford saffron, so I use a dash of turmeric for color (if I feel like color is important). I use cardamom seeds instead of pods because the pods have a chaff. I usually keep a ginger/garlic puree in my fridge in a little jar, to make things even faster. I swapped the cream for canned coconut milk, and increased the sauce ingredients so it'll cover veggies as well as meat.

1 to 1/2 cups whole raw cashews
1-2 tbs ginger-garlic puree (or 2 inches of peeled fresh ginger and 4 largeish garlic cloves)
2 tbs olive oil
2 2-3 inch cinnamon sticks
2 tsps of cardamom seeds
8 whole cloves (when I remember them)
3-4 bay leaves
1 lb lamb shoulder, cut from the bone into approx 1-inch chunks
1-2 cups fresh vegetables, cut into 1-inch lengths/chunks (eggplant, carrots, green beans are great)
1 1/4 tsp salt (I rarely use salt, I'm weird)
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 to 1 cup coconut cream (off the top of a can of coconut milk)

*use the watery rest of the coconut milk to make your rice

1. Put the cashews in a heat-happy bowl. Boil a cup or two of water and pour it over the cashews to cover them. Let sit while you prepare the meat and veggies.

2. After you've prepped the meat/veggies, puree the ginger and garlic in a medium-large food processor (or just dump in your premade puree). Dump in the soaked cashews and their water, and process cashews, ginger, garlic until you get a nice mushy paste (or chunky paste, to taste).

3. Set a large pan to medium heat. Pour in oil, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, bay leaves, and stir-fry for 5-10 seconds.

4. Put about half the lamb chunks in the pan and brown on two sides (only a few seconds per side), remove from pan, and repeat with the other half. Toss the veggies into the pan and brown them a bit, 1-2 minutes. Return meat to pan to join veggies.

5. Dump your cashew/ginger/garlic paste into the pan with meat and veggies. This is where you'd add the saffron/turmeric (and salt and/or cayenne to taste if you like those things) -- or even powdered cumin, cinnamon, etc. Stir and bring to a simmer.

6. Cover and simmer on low for 45-75 minutes. Seriously, it doesn't take a whole hour to cook, it'll just taste better if you let it.

7. Make your rice while you wait! Use the watery half of that can of coconut milk instead of water.

8. Add the coconut milk cream to the pan of korma and stir and cook on medium-high heat until it's all warmed up, mixed in, and delicious.

9. EAT. See? It didn't even take 9 steps.

3 Newsy Newsbites

To kick off the new year, dancing girl press just published Imago, a chapbook by my good friend and fellow poet Lindsay Lusby. I just ordered it, and I can't wait to hold it.  Go buy it too! Especially if you like eggplants, I'm just saying.

In other newsbites, two of my poems from a manuscript I'm calling Binding the Body are in the latest and Lisa Frank-est issue of Caketrain yet: Issue 11. Please go buy Caketrain and support a really phenomenal press as well as um, you know, my work. Say what you will about print vs. online, but oooh baby is Caketrain sexy.

In other other newsbites, I found out this week that I'm one of eight finalists for the Fall 2013 Black River Chapbook Competition over at Black Lawrence Press. I'm crossing my fingers super tightly for more good news from them shortly. It looks like the competition is quite stiff. Woosh!

And for good luck, I'll leave you with a photo of my case bindings from last spring that my friend Kate Barber helped me take recently to beef up my portfolio's professionality:


Today is Mutscheltag, or Mutschel Day!

This is a traditional day in Ruitlingen, Germany, the hometown of my friends Uhle and Henry. Today they invited me and some other friends to celebrate with them by playing a dice game and eating a gorgeous Mutschel loaf that Uhle made specially for the occasion. The bread looked about two feet in diameter!

Ok, maybe a foot and a half? It looks smaller in the picture than it did in real life! 

The Mutschel bread has an iconography: it's shaped like the mountain near the town of Ruitlingen, and the knot at the top is the castle at the top of the mountain. The knots around the outside each have symbols on them which indicate the town's traditional trades.

There's also an accompanying dice game -- we played a version that Wikipedia calls "seven eat like animals" -- No one got to eat while each person rolled two dice, and whoever rolled 7 first got to eat first, tearing a chunk of the bread off with their hands and taunting the others who can't eat yet. Then each time someone else rolled a 7, they too could eat, until finally everyone was chowing down. 

Henry modified the game so that we could eat the salads (pictured) while we were playing the dice game, very kind of him to keep us from starving. However, the salads were even better with the bread.

After dinner, we had tea and played another dice game, Mia, to see who would take home the leftovers. There were again two dice, but this time we had to take turns rolling and calling out the number we rolled -- either the truth, or a lie, and each time the number had to be higher than the last. The next person had to guess if we were telling the truth or not. If she was right, the bluffer got a point; if she was wrong, she got a point. 

We were supposed to play to 6 points. Apparently the German way to keep tallies (at least, for this game) is by drawing a little stick figure like you would for hangman. Uhle added little open coffins below our stick figures... which meant we each got to play longer before losing, but it also meant that when we lost, it was quite morbid... I love it.

I won the first game, and got to eat like an animal before anyone else, but I lost the second game, largely thanks to Henry's ridiculous bluffs and ridiculous truths. I still got to take home some of the Mutschel! I'm planning on eating it with chocolate (which is what I did when they brought chocolate out for dessert.... mmmm).

Uhle and Henry are so kind and generous and open. I'm really glad they're sharing some of their traditions with me!

Happy New Year

I was super excited to receive my contributor's copies of Hayden's Ferry Review the other day. I read in their awesome online reading, which the fantabulous Sam Martone organized, and back then it appeared everyone else had received copies -- aaand mine was back in Tuscaloosa while I was visiting Boston. Whoops.

Also exciting was the arrival of Parcel, right before my winter vacation. (I'd have a picture of Hayden's Ferry Review but a cat is sleeping on my arm and purring really loudly and so I am even typing this one-handed. Later.) Both journals have poems from my thesis... and from the chapbook that is coming out with dancing girl press much later this year.

I'm not a big fan of resolutions. I'm afraid of commitment... or perhaps I'd like to think my efforts to improve myself are more adaptable and more frequently established. But there's something to be said for this weird space at the start of the year, where class and work haven't quite started back up yet... and something to be said for this blog space.

1. I find myself nearly thirty (only a couple more years left to chase the Ruth Lilly fellowships) and ridiculously out of shape, so in 2014 I'll continue to attempt to establish an exercise routine that works for me (eating cookies does not burn enough calories to be helpful, apparently). Good thing I attend a university that has a good gym.

2. I have to finish my creative writing thesis by April 4th of this year, so that might as well be a resolution.Woo.

3. I'll figure out how to afford my final year of gradual school (for book arts), by applying to assistantships, fellowships, and jobs and waiting impatiently for the results. 2013 was the year of establishing in-state residency for tuition purposes, and I succeeded. Woot.

4. Everything else I can think of, I'm already doing, albeit slowly and inconsistently in some cases. I've got an erratic but viable writing schedule which I supplement by using any downtime to send work out to journals. I'm busy but as focused as I realistically can be. I'm taking the time for side projects in both book arts and poetry. I will never achieve the right balance between me time, family time, friend time, and cats time. Let's face it: cat time and me time are the same thing. I'm going to AWP (it'd be nice to read for someone), and I'm going to Bermuda, and I'm going to Ox Bow Michigan. I want to make paper again this year. I will make paper again this year. Am I doing this right?

Publications Update

On the writing front...

The gorgeous online journal alice blue just published their 21st issue, and included two of my poems. I'm honored. I have loved this journal for a while now.

My mother, who does not read this blog (who told me so today), actually read the alice blue poems "because they're online and I didn't have to use Paypal."

My chapbook, None of Us Know Any Stories, will be published by dancing girl press next year. I am over the moon with glee. It helps that I have several good friends who have work in, and others who soon will have work in, dgp's admirable catalog. In fact, there is a sale on right now: you can buy three chapbooks for $10 plus $2 shipping, so go buy some. I bought...

Future Skirt by Laura Kochman
Time Travel: Theory and Practice by Katie Berger
the killing of the angel of the house by Leia Penina Wilson

Other publications that have been so kind as to publish my work recently include the inspiring Sundog Lit, the large and in charge Gargoyle, and the galactic JERRY. I'm proud to grace their pages, web or print.

I say Sundog Lit is inspiring in part because the Games Issue's theme inspired me to write my first ever video game poems, but also because I shared a few choice Games Issue poems (certainly not my own!) to my Poetry Tour students a couple weeks ago. These poems generated the best class discussion we've had all semester, which is saying something, because we have great class discussions even on a slow day.

I have reviewed proofs for a couple other publications coming out soon. I can't wait to tell you, internet, about those.

Last week one of my poetry students said, "gee, Emma, I Googled you recently, didn't realize it'd be so easy to find your poems" -- to which I ducked my head and mumbled "Yeaaaah" and the class laughed at/with me.

My Twitter account will remain private....

Rebinding and Printing

Life has been fantastic lately. I mean, sure, the government is shut down, giving my sister an unwanted holiday, making my mother work without pay, and possibly costing my roommate's parents their house, but all in all, life is peachy.

How could it not be peachy, when the Vandercook SP-15 looks like this?

And wood type prints soooo fiiiiiiine?

Tell me these letters aren't sexy!

And look at this mending. I mended that! I said, hey little book, let's fill your holes and strengthen your edges with fancy Japanese papers. Hey little book, let's be friends.

My workplace is never quite a zen garden... but I had so much mending and filling to get through!

How 'bout this marble/endsheet/leather combo, hmmm? 

Here's a rebinding on parchment tapes. This book will be a limp vellum model.

Back in the Type Lab, everything is galore-ious, even when accidentally printing on tympan.

And I tackled the book plough for the first time!  Here's my first-ever rounded and backed AND ploughed book. The plough makes the edges super slick.

As awkward as sewing on a frame was when I first learned last spring, I'm loving the sewing frame. I'm also becoming a little more ambidexterous. 

Single cords:

Double cords (possibly my favorite, if the more time-consuming for me at the moment):

And here are these two paired with their leather and endpapers-to-be. Swoon!

Moose would like to leave you with a bit of advice:

Adventures in Book Conservation

I've been teaching English 101 and Poetry Tour and most of my students are earnest and lovely people. I have been thesising. Yes, thesising is a verb in my life. I have been reading Citizen J by the brilliant Daniela. Daniela, who will be in town soon (September 12) for a reading, The Artificial Houndstooth Reading, which will precede a house party featuring the band KRILL.

But I'll just sit these here. These are my babies:

I have removed their spines delicately but without anesthetics, for the purposes of bettering them. For example, this book started with a leather spine (calf), in certain disrepair.

I furthered the disrepair with the aid of a blunt knife.

Side view, just pretty. Look at that marbling. The marbling is going to be a bear to line back up neatly.

Scrape scrape scrape. Leather, glue, going going gone.

With the help of goop, suddenly I could see the sections underneath all that glue!
Incidentally, animal glue reconstituted smells like dead things.

 With the spine free of glue (FREEEE AT LAST!), it was time to break the book, section by section.

Until all of the sections were independant.

It is important to keep track of who follows whom.

In the end, the book looks like a rattier book if you stack it neatly with the covers.

I found a lock of hair among the pages of one of the other books. Gross. Romantic? It was the Illiad. In Greek, so I'm not exactly sure if the page carries romantic significance.