Meekling Blog!

An Interview with Miranda Steffens

In anticipation of the upcoming launch party for Peripheral Vision, we sat down with author Miranda Steffens to ask all of the questions — read on for some of her insights on the writing process, making an e-book, and the weird convolutions of English grammar.

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MP: One of the first motifs I noticed in Peripheral Vision was the parenthetical, self-conscious commentary on choices made by it speaker — a demand to better articulate a given claim, or observing the finer points of changing tense, made at a slight distance from the “other” story we’re being told in the book. Could you talk about how you developed these parenthetical parts, and how you see them working in conjunction with the other sections?

 

MS: Well, I guess I wasn’t thinking of the parentheticals as a removal from the narrative but rather going into it deeper, which probably is also sort of removed — trying to follow the meaning behind each previous section. I guess that does in turn pull away from the moment through the overthinking and over-analysis.

 

MP: Totally, I think the speaker even says outright in the book that those moments are distracting them from a task at hand … I’m also really interested in this book’s commentary on being alone or loneliness, especially since the speaker sometimes sees this loneliness as a result of their own artwork, could you touch a little bit on that on that?

 

MS: Well, the piece actually came as a response to a video I saw —

 

MP: Oh really! I didn’t know that.

 

MS: The reason I didn’t mention that was, I don’t remember the name of the video or who it was by! It was from a prompt in a class I was in with Matthew Goulish called Writing Systems. My assignment was to respond to this video in writing, and because I’m not a visual artist I had a really hard time with it. The video was sort of abstract and conceptual —interesting, but I had no idea how to respond, so I probably got a little anxious about it and felt rather isolated from the piece. I was trying really hard to do it justice, but writing is so much more logical than a visual piece needs to be. The first section is a dream, because when I had that dream I thought, Okay, I need to use this because it’s going to be the only way I can respond to this video! So I wrote it down, thinking I would use it somehow and not knowing how. Then I ended up deciding to respond to my own dream, which was in turn a response to the video — so, taking my subconscious response to this work and adding a conscious response. And at that point I had a piece that was totally separate from the original prompt.

 

MP:  So was this dream of the object you reference in the book, the board with the four openings?

MS: Mhm. Now I remember her video had something to do with a ball bouncing, just one shot of it, so in the dream that art piece was my only way of making art — I’m not a visual artist, so I don’t think in those terms, so my brain gave me this object and I knew I needed to work with it.

 

MP:  Speaking of objects — so what was it like to collaborate with us on the book; could you talk about how you made certain decisions in the design? Now that we have the finished product it’s so compelling to me because every aspect feels so intentional — the vellum pages, the binding, and so on.

 

MS: It’s been really cool having other people work on it because the original piece was already a response to someone else’s work. So with Peripheral Vision, further collaboration seemed like the natural way to take it … actually, for my reading I’m going to do something similar where I have the audience interact with the text. I feel like the piece is about responding to something, whether it’s responding to your own thoughts or other people, so it seems really appropriate to let someone else see where they can go with it. Rebecca [Elliott] was totally spot on — the slightly transparent paper, and visually separating each thought from page to page.

 

MP: Oh, absolutely. I also love the overlap in certain sections, how once sentence will partially obscure one on the next page.

 

MS: Totally — and I think that’s actually how the brain works, how you’ll have one primary conscious thought and then so many other fragments behind it that you can still kind of see, and it’s just a matter of getting to them.

 

MP: Going off of that, could you talk about the way different grammatical tenses work in Peripheral Vision? I’m so taken by how the speaker is literally transparent about it! It’s funny because I feel like that’s something that we wouldn’t normally try writing about — the ideal of “too much telling”, or whatever — but it’s so lovely to see what can happen here where there is that amount of disclosure. I became so aware reading this of how the shifts in tense would seem very natural until the speaker went on to break it down further, at which point one could see the scaffolding, so to speak, and notice how unusual it was — and how much room there is for error.

 

MS: The tense thing … it’s interesting, now that I think about it I wasn’t actually doing this when I wrote Peripheral Vision, but I teach ESL, so I’m really aware of verb tense and how when people misuse it totally changes the meaning of a sentence. I did also teach for a bit before writing the book, so maybe that was it. But what tense to use in writing is always a question, regardless of genre — the present tense makes it more immediate, but if you’re writing in the present tense about something that really happened, then by the time you edit it you can’t anymore since it’s already in the past! I think that’s what I was going for, this process of each movement down through tense as an editing of the previous section.

 

MP: So cool. Well lastly, this is kind of a trendy question, but what was it like for you to make the e-book? Actually, how do you feel about e-books in general, and did that change after you actually made one?

 

MS: I never read e-books! It changes the way reading feels, you can’t handle the paper or anything — and it’s bad for your eyes. But I also think there’s a lot that e-books can do that paper books can’t quite do, so I was open to making one. I’d thought about trying it myself in the past for other pieces, but I don’t have the technical skills; I’m not very good with computers. When I was talking with Tim [O’Rourke] about it, he was describing all of these possibilities and I was totally blown away —you can make something in three dimensions! It was such a fun process, and even though I don’t personally read e-books, if I knew something like what he made existed I would want to look at it.

Archive Channel no. 1

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You’re reading the first post of the Archive Channel (an exploration of print/analog media archives around Chicago)! We’ll be starting with some bound periodicals — in the future you can expect to see images from 16mm films, glass slides, and (of course) some really wild artist’s books.

But for now — check out this image from the 1979 issue of the now-defunct High Performance, featuring the Swiss artist Ruedi Schiller.

 

Summer Blog Series

Hey all! You might want to keep an eye on our blog in the upcoming weeks — in addition to our writings about various projects & new releases, you can expect a bi-weekly foray into Chicago’s vast selection of library archives (microfilm, bound periodicals, rare books, old news, etc.), a series of short essays on the different methods of collating the alphabet, an iPhone app available for download; plus various exaggerations, mic-droppers, flights of fancy, etc.

In the meantime, here is an image of the sky above Meekling Press, courtesy of Google Earth.

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‘A smell of printing / in the kitchen’: small press letterpress

A couple months ago, we got to be a part of a gallery show on small press letterpress at Colorado College. This was very exciting for me personally, because I’m #1 fan of Aaron Cohick who runs the press at Colorado College (& NewLights Press), and also some of the other presses in the show, like Coracle, were big inspirations when starting Meekling Press… and of course, continue to be.

Photos by Briget Heidmous, courtesy of I.D.E.A. Space @ Colorado College. More documentation here.

I also learned about some truly awesome presses I hadn’t been aware of before. Further Other Bookworks !! makes such beautiful books and prints. Timeless, Infinite Light are just my kind of weird. And I feel like Small Fires Press is a kindred spirit.

 

A couple of new publishing projects

Here are a couple of neat-looking publishing projects I’ve heard about recently. They are both taking submissions right now, so get on it!

1.

REAEDR: “A magazine of one word poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.” I am a big fan of NewLights Press, and I can’t wait to see how this magazine turns out. They’re currently taking submissions for the first two issues. Submissions for Issue One (“WAR”) are due June 5th, and for Issue Two (“FUCK EM IF THEY CANT TAKE A JOKE”) on September 1.

2.

LED (Literature Emitting Diodes): An LED display in a storefront window somewhere in Chicago, with a different poem or short prose piece every month. Sounds like a really fun project! The submission deadline is the fifth of every month.

Objects & Fragments & Magic

In this session Greg Howard leads workshop on Writing-as-Collection, which will include reading from his work and strategies for writing-as-collection, with bonus exercises to complete before and during.

Gregory Howard teaches creative writing, contemporary literature, and film studies at the University of Maine. His first novel Hospice has just been released by FC2. He lives in Bangor, Maine with his wife and cats.

(& be sure to check out Dennis Cooper’s tribute to Hospice here: http://goo.gl/G5zFTe)

 

WRITING-AS-COLLECTION EXERCISES

~to complete before~

Part 1
Spend a part of your day or week collecting objects. For our purposes here, let’s define objects broadly–not just literal objects like things you find on the street, in your room, in a friends room, but also perceptions, memories, ideas, sentences or lines from work. Basically collect anything that fascinates you are captures your fancy.

Now make a list. Be specific in your list. The fabric of your language is important here. Don’t just write “the photograph.” Write instead: “the photograph of the vacation in which the girl, who wearing a green one-piece swimsuit with golden fish on it, looks bored while being entertained by a street magician who looks malevolent and possibly drunk.” In other words, describe your objects well.

Write a short narrative based around your list (250 words). Use the actual language of your list.

 

~to be done during~

Part 2
While I’m talking make a new list. What words or ideas strike you while I’m talking? What suddenly looks new or strange in the place that you are in? Look at your new list of objects. Why are they interesting? Why are they important? Who might find them fascinating? Write this story by connecting it to your previous narrative, the one you thought you had finished (surprise!), thus creating a newer longer narrative. How can you connect these two? How might they be “read together”? Try to keep the surprising and fragmentary nature of the pieced going. Don’t smooth things over. (another 100-200 words)

What is Letterpress?

Benjamin Franklin, printing his newspaper  “Franklin the printer” by Charles E. Mills – Library of Congress reproduction # LC-USZC4-7217 [1].

Letterpress printing is basically using a press to print raised type and images. Traditionally, this is done with movable type, a technology that started in the west with Gutenberg in the 1440s, and around 400 years earlier than that in China – each letter is a piece of metal or wood, arranged together to make words, sentences, paragraphs. Even the white space between words and lines has to be accounted for with a little piece of metal (slightly under type high*, so it won’t ink & print). In the late 19th Century, commercial printers and newspapers moved away from hand-set type to linotype, in which entire lines of type are cast from hot metal using a linotype machine – much faster than setting them letter by letter! It wasn’t until the 1960s and 70s that newspapers moved from letterpress printing to offset lithography and digital typesetting.

Letterpress type is backwards – leading to the caution to mind your p’s & q’s (also your b’s & d’s, and since it’s set upside down, you should also watch out for your n’s & u’s). This is from The Jury of Sudden Hands

We do most of our letterpress printing with hand-set type and linoleum cuts, but sometimes we’ll also take advantage the new high-tech letterpress method in wide use today of photopolymer plates – where a plastic plate is made from a computer file and then mounted on a base and printed on the press. We used polymer plates to print the covers of On the Stairs, for example.

There are different types of presses, but ours is a floor-standing platen press made by Shniedewind & Lee in Chicago in the 1880s. Before it came to us, it lived for thirty years or so in the back of a bookshop, and before that it belonged to a Baptist church where it was used to make programs and newsletters. Most of the metal type we have comes from that church, too. At some point in its lifetime, the press was hooked up to a motor, probably in a situation something like this one, with several presses connected to a motor by belts going up to the ceiling:

The industrialization of printing. Compare this photograph to the artist’s rendition of a serene Benjamin Franklin at the beginning of this post. “Fitzwilliam Press Room 1917” photograph by Covert via LSU Digital Library, Louisiana State Museum [1].

We don’t have a motor for our press – instead we use a treadle to power it by foot, which is a great workout, and probably makes us really good at biking or kicking. When a design calls for more than one color, the colors have to be printed one at a time, the press cleaned off and re-inked for each new color, and the paper fed through again, by hand. It’s a slow process, and meticulous, but I find it totally addicting & wonderful, a tactile expression of something abstract as language, thought, poetry.

Let me know if you have any questions & I’ll do my best to answer them. I love learning & talking about letterpress! Also check out the following websites for lots more information:

Briar Press
Five Roses
Letterpress Commons

-Rebecca