Lead the Way, Mimosa (Unless You End Up as Rorshach Bats)

In a little less than an hour, I’ll make the (insanely short) drive over to Firecracker Press, or rather Central Print, their nonprofit educational arm. I signed up for a letterpress class, and yes, it’s going to be really rudimentary. I have my hair pulled back in a ponytail, so that it doesn’t get caught in the press, and I’m wearing my grubbiest jeans. Tonight, we bring a picture of our favorite leaf – I don’t really have a favorite leaf, but one of my favorite trees is Mimosa pudica. If I had to pick a part of the plant I was most fond of, I’d pick the flowers, which are fuzzy and weird and bright pink, and smell like perfume and ginger ale. But the leaves are interesting, too – mimosa’s also known as sleepy plant or sensitive plant because the leaves shutter together when you touch them (they do the same thing when it gets dark). They are also ferny and prehistoric-looking, really beautiful, as you can see:

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I’ve probably set myself up for failure by picking something complicated with lots of tiny fronds instead of, say, a catalpa leaf, which is just shaped like an upside-down heart. We’ll see if what I end up with looks less like a leaf and more like one big ink smudge, like a Rorschach card.

Postscript! 

So here is my very first attempt at a woodblock (well, it’s a linoleum print; easier to carve than wood, so I got off easy). Yeah, I tackled something too complicated for a beginner. I was really panicking as we were all carving, because I couldn’t make the tools do quite what I wanted them to do. I didn’t get the background clean enough, ask there is a lot of what printmakers refer to as “noise.” Matty, our wonderful teacher, called this “rustic,” which maybe is a nice way to say “primitive,” but I feel happy that this actually turned out looking like something because I wasn’t so sure it would. I was trying to work from a drawing I’d brought, and got really frustrated because it didn’t look exactly like my source image. Then I realized I just had to trust my hand, and things went a bit more smoothly. I didn’t really like my final drawing, and so ended up almost re-drawing the image with the tools. Not ideal. I kind of lost my way, and I also wasn’t sure how my marks would translate to the final print. I have to say, though, as a left-handed person who mostly writes and hasn’t done any printmaking at all, I am very happy that my final prints did not look like schmutzy Rorschach bats. This looks more like a thistle or an Armistice poppy than a mimosa branch, but it looks like something, and a botanical something, too! So, I’m happy. My homework now is to track down linoleum blocks, carving tools, and to think up a big project and a little project. Getting the stuff will be easy. Trying to figure out what I want to do with those tools will not be easy…

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Making Space

In October, we moved into a house. It’s the first time I’ve ever had my name on a mortgage. This house is modest by average American standards – 1800 square feet  – but it feels huge, because we’ve been living in a 625-sf apartment for the last two years. I guess I’m impressed that we managed, as two adult humans, to live in such a small space, but I’m relieved to have a bit more room to float around in. I wrote my last chapbook at the kitchen table; it doubled as my work desk. Though I got a running start on it in our apartment prior to that, which was in O’Fallon Park, and at 1,000 s.f., it was large enough to allow for two office spaces. This is me, figuring out where to hang stuff in that room:

408166_10150612530874929_1812925092_nAs you can see, the walls were very red. It was one of those half-rooms you see at the top of the stairs in St. Louis two-family flats, pretty much just space for my desk and a chair. There was also a very, very small closet, which I outfitted with shelves and put my books inside it. For the six or so months we were there, I was insanely productive. The neighborhood leaked into my poems, high, low, and sideways; and I think maybe the poems I wrote during that period sound like they were written in a small, red room.

So, this is my new office; the opposite, really. It’s not huge, but the ceilings are high and the walls are painted a very calm, meditative blue.

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It’s the same desk that lived in the red room. And some of the ephemera over the desk is from that era, too; it survived two years in storage in a friend’s rehab. There’s also a closet, but one I can put spare clothes and art supplies in, because there is room for an actual bookcase.

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This came with the house. It’s home to all of my poetry books now, including a bunch that I had not seen for two years, because they were taped inside plastic tubs and squirreled away in the back room of a third-story house (a room that had no windows, I might add…it’s a rehab, after all).

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This is the wall behind my desk; the poster is by artist and herbalist Michael Ford, in memory of herbalist Juliette de Baïracli Levy, who is one of my heroes. On the little glass shelf over Juliette, there are three terra cotta pots, which I seeded today with valerian, white evening primrose, and calendula.

My tiny red office was a bit like an oven. (And yes, it was even hot like an oven – we were there in 2012, the summer that temps hovered around 107 for more than a week, and didn’t get much cooler from there.) This new space feels like what my imagination wants a cloud chamber or star chamber to be, like a room where clouds or stars park themselves for a bit. (Those two things, in actuality, are not places one would want to spend any time in at all.) The first week this room became functional, I turned out three poems (not bad ones, either, though they need more revision for sure). But this space seems to be more conducive to stories. Since I’ve moved in, I’ve found a growing chorus of characters appearing in my head; they seem to have no intention of leaving me alone. Apparently this calm, blue workspace is meant to be the place where I sit and transcribe what they tell me.

On Tuesday, I’m starting a class at Firecracker Press, so my hope is that I can figure out how to design and print covers in order to put out those stories as a series of linked, individual chapbooks. Sort of like how Dickens used to do it, in serial form, or like the old Penny Dreadfuls. I’ve even been looking around for tabletop platen presses on Ebay, but I need to learn how to use one first. And in the spirit of Juliette Levy I guess, I’ve been researching how to make ink out of shaggy mane mushrooms, pokeberries, and black walnuts. Those messy ink-making operations will have to take place in another room entirely…or maybe even out on the back porch.