Thursday, October 23, 2008

Exorcism poetry recording by Larissa Schmailo

Exorcism poetry recording by Larissa Schmailo
Reviewed by Shannon O’Connor

Larissa Schmailo’s Exorcism breaks open with the brief flourish of “Vow,” and then leads into the rambling ranting of “Warsaw Ghetto,” which is reminiscent of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” “I am the Warsaw Ghetto/ I am the Underground Railroad,” Schmailo’s poetry is accented by guitars and keyboards. The narrator puts herself into places she could never have been, but only imagined, “I am a five year old girl in Jim Crow Mississippi going to school.”

In “Bloom,” Schmailo pays homage to Molly Bloom, the wife of Leopold Bloom, of the novel Ulysses. The poem is crunchy and staccato, “This is December/ and over there’s Christmas/ and we call April Easter cause she makes them March.” She catches the spirit of Ulysses and the breathless voice of Molly’s character in the last chapter of the novel which belongs to her, “Hi, I’m Molly Bloom, blow by my bedroom/ by the window a frozen bird, frozen for weeks/ a weak bird, a dead duck, a gone goose, a pigeon petered out.”

The title track of the CD, “Exorcism,” is a found poem, taken from Group Dynamics, People of the Lie, Hope for Healing Human Evil by M. Scott Peck. The poem deals with the massacre at Mai Lai; it starts with a chant, “This is holy ground, this is holy ground…” The poem is a song, sung in different registers to heighten the tension of the gory truth, “The written orders were ambiguous, the Mai Lai orders were ambiguous, JUST WASTE THE PLACE.” The fact that “Exorcism” is a found poem makes it more dramatic and endearing. This is the truth, as told by someone else. “Exorcism” proves that anything can be a poem. Poetry could be found in textbooks or on cereal boxes.

Schmailo’s lyrics and rhythms bear shades of Jim Morrison and Patti Smith. The unbridled and sometimes psychotic sensuality makes one wonder why the world is so horrible, and is there anything anyone can do about it? If there is, poetry might be the thing to save the world, if we can learn to speak to one another in a language we all can share.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

“The Man in the Booth in the Midtown Tunnel" goes to Endicott College

“The Man in the Booth in the Midtown Tunnel" goes to Endicott College

I was invited to give a workshop for my poetry collection “The Man in the Booth in the Midtown Tunnel” by an unusual man, Dan Sklar. Dan Sklar is the Creative Writing Director at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. Dan has turned into a great supporter of the small press in the Boston area. There are too few colleges, universities, that welcome little magazines and small presses, and because of Dan, many poets who would not have been heard by many students, are given a voice. Besides the Cape Cod Writers Center headed by the gracious Ann Elizabeth Tom, and Michael Sullivan of the William Joiner Center at U/Mass/Boston, and a few select others, Sklar is a major solid citizen. Sklar, of course is a widely published small press poet and probably mentions his credits in Free Verse and Ibbetson Street more than he mentions his publications in the Harvard Review, and other top shelf mags. When you go out to Endicott, Sklar treats everyone the same. Whether you are a big deal poet with a Pulitzer, or you are putting out a stapled chapbook with a minipress, well, Sklar digs you…as long as the work works for him. I tell Dan whenever I go out to Endicott I feel like a mensch, a distinguished poet, instead of an extinguished one. Hats off to this guy and buy his latest book “Bicycles, Canoes, and Drums”

*I included some remarks that I made to his class about “The Man in the Booth in the Midtown Tunnel” (Cervena Barva Press):

There are some people who are nature poets, there are language poets, metaphysical poets, and you name it. I guess I can call myself a peoples’ poet. I write mostly about people—character studies, if you will. I guess it goes back to when I was a kid watching the Twilight Zone—you know the original in black and white. Rod Serling, the host, would introduce some character, a guy, down-on-his-luck, maybe a reclusive bookworm, a snake oil salesman, in a gone-to-seed hotel room, with the requisite neon sign blinking garishly outside his window. Serling would introduce him: “Have if you will Mr. Henry Beamish, a small fastidious man whose only passion is the written word.”

To me, often people on the margin have been a source of fascination. I have worked a s a counselor at a psych. hospital, McLean Hospital, for 26 years now, and I guess for some reason I was attracted to the “craziness” of the ward, over the “craziness” of the outside world. When we discharge clients from the program I work now, I often joke; “I haven’t been discharged yet, and won’t be anytime soon.” A good portion of the work I have produced has dealt with the often overlooked denizens of the back ward, and the people I have encountered in bars, coffee shops, and subways, etc… in Boston/Cambridge/Somerville.

In my life, and I am sure in yours, there has always been a person, who remains a strong symbol, an icon for you, a flashing light, on this journey we all take. So when I wrote: “The Man in the Booth in the Midtown Tunnel,” I concentrated on a man I saw in a small booth in the middle of the Midtown Tunnel when I was a kid. The tunnel connects the borough of Queens to the borough of Manhattan. The booth and the man are long gone, but the booth hasn’t given up the ghost. Now as a middle age man, probably around the same age as the guy in the booth, I realized this man represented encroaching adulthood: the trip from the relative security of a Long Island childhood, to an unknown, alluring, yet frightening adult world. Did this man have a wife, friends, a life outside the booth, I asked my Dad. My father confused as to why I was fixated on this obscure figure said: “How the hell do I know?”
When I was on the skids, I retreated to a booth of my own making, whether a cubicle in a dark library, or the small furnished room I lived in the Back Bay of Boston for many years. We emerge and submerge in metaphorical tunnels. We emerge from the vaginal tunnel towards the light and cry, later we reenter that tunnel and die. We have many rites of passage. All I know is, wherever I go that man, in that cramped booth, will always follow me.

To order go to




It was a crisp, autumnal morning when I walked into Porter Square Books in Porter Square. It was the kind of classic New England day that made you want to chat about books, and feel their presence around you. Porter Square Books is nestled on the border of Somerville and Cambridge, in the Porter Square Shopping Mall. Whenever I go in to browse, or have a cup of coffee at their Café Zing, there is always the bustle of customer traffic, and lively conversation. In her regular corner, sipping a cup of Zing coffee, long-time Somerville resident Laurinda Bedingfield, told me: “You can live here.” She loves the store’s sense of community. She feels that it is welcoming to the book lovers, her dogs (at the outside café), and the person who wants to sit and sip and tap on their laptop.

Porter Square Books is certainly known for their diverse selection of books, but they are equally known as a store that reaches out to the community. I talked with Dale Szczeblowski, General Manager, Carol Stoltz, Children’s Books Buyer, and Jane Dawson, Personnel Director. They gave me a good idea about the wide reach of the store.

Porter Square Books, has been in business for four years, and is still doing well in spite of the climate of recession. The store has birthed a few new programs since I last talked with them. On their website they added a Blog. The Blog is an indisputable part of our culture now. To the staff it seemed like a great way to get the word out, and is yet another way to market books. Many employees contribute to the Blog, including Somerville resident and master bookseller, Josh Cook.

Porter Square Books has also partnered with the Literary Volunteers of America. They promote this program which sends volunteers out in the community to teach adults the basic reading and writing skills needed to survive in the world-at-large. The volunteers go to many venues, and spend 8 to 10 hours a week teaching.

Porter Square Books participates in many book fairs, is involved in fundraising efforts, some of which were held at the Somerville Library, and they are a participant in the “Reach Out and Read” program (that started out in Boston, but now is national), that gets books into doctors’ offices, and teaches parents how to read to their kids in the most effective manner.

Recently Porter Square has started a book club, run by Joan Sindall that meets at 4PM the third Monday of the month. So far it has been well-attended, and there have been raves about Sindall, and the group itself.

Szcbelowski, talked about some of the bestsellers at the store which include: “The Condition” by Jennifer Haigh (Haigh will read at the Somerville News Writers Festival), and Dennis Lehane’s “the Given Day.”

I asked the group if there were any Somerville residents among the helpful and knowledgeable staff. And of course, the ubiquitous Josh Cook came up, who has been with the store since its inception. Also—Robert Smyth, a long-time Somerville resident, and founder of the highly -regarded Yellow Moon Press, has worked at the store for a year or so.

The store responds to the “intellectual” demographics of its surroundings. So they offer readings of high brow and serious authors, as well as well- known local writers. Some who will appear in the coming months are: Anita Shreve, Allegra Goodman, and two well-regarded local poets Deborah M. Priestly and Joyce Jillison.

As always, Porter Square Books will be sponsoring The Somerville News Writers Festival Nov 22, 2008 at 6:30PM. I could think of no better supporter of a community event than this great community bookstore!

For more information about Porter square books go to
Somerville News Writers Festival

Monday, October 20, 2008

How books are printed: From Letterpress to Print-On-Demand

How books are printed: From Letterpress to Print-On-Demand

By Steve Glines

* Steve Glines is the book designer for the Ibbetson Street Press of Somerville, Mass.

When I was about ten my grandfather gave me a book he had been saving just for me. It was my first book. I don’t remember the title or content but it was a beautiful book, my own book. It had a dust jacket that my grandfather removed and tossed aside to reveal a soft brown leather book with the title and author embossed in 18 carrot gold on the cover and spine. Both the cover and spine had been tooled with a beautiful border. I thought the spine especially beautiful. The hide had been glued to a form of cardboard made of cotton fibers and the endpapers of the book itself were glued to the spine with the glue joint covered over with a beautiful hand made gold and green marbled paper. The body of the book had been printed by letterpress in giant 16 page signatures then sewn into a cloth backing with a Smyth Sewing machine. The first signature of the book, only 4 pages, had been printed by engraving and contained the title page with a florid design together with a portrait of the author reminiscent of those found on currency. There was a phantom signature of tissue paper between each of the engraved pages to protect the engravings.

You could tell the book had not been opened and read because the signatures had not been cut. The binding process included folding and gathering the signatures then sewing them into the backing but the resulting signatures were not trimmed as they are today. My grandfather ceremoniously handed me his paper cutter and instructed me to cut the signatures firmly but gently. For him learning how to properly open a book was a sacred right of passage. As I slowly sliced the first signature open I could feel the individual cotton fibers stretch then break as I drew the dull knife upwards. By the time I had cut the last signature the book had become mine. I would be the first person to set eyes on the printed page since they had come off the press. There was magic in that.

When I opened the book and looked at the first page in the first signature I could see the slightly uneven imprint of the type in the soft textured paper. Even without a magnifying glass I could see the needle edge of the types serifs where it cut into the paper carrying with it the carbon black filled ink. It was beautiful.

Books were made this way for several hundred years. Typesetting was a tedious, expensive and challenging work when done by hand and dangerous when done by a linotype machine that cast individual lines or slugs of metal type from negatively shaped type masters and hot molten lead. These slugs were then printed for proofing on small presses called galley presses. When all was well the slugs were then placed in a large 2 x 4 page panel for printing. Two of these were required to print one sixteen page signature. It was a slow tedious labor intensive process.

Before about 1970 fine, hardbound books were only printed by letterpress. I am old enough to remember when the change occurred. Offset printing was considered cheep and not worthy of a fine printed book. By 1980 all hardbound books were printed by offset lithography.

Offset lithography printing uses a flat metal or plastic sheet called a plate that has been photographically prepared so that ink sticks to the image area and is rejected elsewhere. Ink is transferred from the plate to a roller that presses into ink into the paper. One of the drawbacks to offset lithography is that the offset plate cannot carry as much ink to the paper or press as hard as a letterpress. Because of this the paper used in offset printing must be very flat and without the “tooth” that characterizes the “fine” papers used in letterpress. When the thin film of ink on an offset roller is pressed against the very flat paper, fine lines, dots and type serifs tend to spread so serif type faces printed by offset tend to look a little muddy when compared to identical type printed by letterpress. This feature of offset printing lead directly to an explosion in the use of san-serif type faces like Helvetica, Universe and others in book design. One good feature of offset printing is the ability to print photographs with a resolution many times greater than letterpress offers.

In older books photographs were often printed individually then glued or “tipped” into the book or entire signatures of photographs or drawings were printed by etching presses then sewn into the book. The maximum resolution of a letterpress was about 45 dots per inch using newsprint and as much as 85 dots per inch using paper specially prepared for the purpose. This paper was often hard and brittle from the clay used to prepare the paper to take a very sharp image. The harder and flatter the surface the sharper the dots could be. Etching presses or rotogravure, are capable of impressions of up to 200 dots per inch but this process is very expensive and gravure doesn’t print type very well at all. The colorful magazines distributed with Sunday Newspapers were always printed by rotogravure. That was then; today both newspapers and the colorful magazines they contain on Sunday are printed by offset. Because offset printing was an inexpensive way to print both type and art on the same page it became very popular with textbook publishers. It didn’t take long for paperback publishers to switch to offset followed quickly by traditional publishers.

Not only did the switch to offset represent a revolution in printing at the same time there was a revolution in typesetting. Letterpress printing was a part the old industrial revolution characterized by big dirty machines, steam engine technology. Typesetting was a blue-collar profession conducted in the bowls of a factory. Type was literally hot as the liquid lead flowed down open channels to form the slug in a linotype machine. In the late 1960’s “cold type” became popular. Early “cold type” systems came from IBM Selectric ™ Typewriters modified to print real typographers’ fonts onto specially prepared paper and Compugraphic ™ and other brands of machines that composed type onto photographic paper. These galleys would then be used to “paste-up” a dummy of the publication which then was then used to photographically create an offset plate.

Today, of course, hot type and paste-up is a thing of the past because of the multitude of personal computer programs that can electronically paste-up, proof the image on ink jet or laser printers and electronically create an offset plate. Xerox, Hewlett Packard and Kodak all pioneered in the use of ink jet and laser as “page-proof printers” with a quality image that rivaled or bettered that produced by an offset press.

The best offset printers can print images with a resolution of 300 dots per inch at a rate measuring in the thousands of impressions per minute but an offset pressman might have to print as many as 50 sheets to get the inking on a plate exactly right before turning up the press. Because of the tuning required an offset job is cheaper than a proofing press only of the print run exceeds many hundred or thousands of impressions. For many years book publishing has been constrained by the economies of scale in offset printing. For example, printing a 200 page paperback book might cost as much as $2000 to set up and 2 cents per impression. Printing and binding 100 copies could cost $35 or more per book but in quantities of 50,000 the cost falls into the range of pennies per book.

Modern proofing presses, for example Hewlett Packard’s Indigo series of industrial laser printers, are capable of printing an 11” by 17” images in full color with a resolution of 1200 dots per inch at the rate of up to 1000 pages per minute. The quality of the image produced by these printers is superior to almost all offset printing but cost considerably more than offset at its optimum but considerably less than offset in very small quantities. With the introduction of home, commercial and industrial laser printers “printing on demand” was born and “publishing on demand” soon after.

Publishers face two dilemmas: First, Can they sell enough books to make publishing worthwhile? Second, how can publishers keep their back list alive without having to print and stock uneconomical quantities of books? For most mainstream publishers pre- and post-publication costs dictate an initial print run of many thousands of books. These same economics prohibit the publication of books with potentially smaller audiances and prohibit altogether books on the backlist that could have long but active tails. A book by a major publisher that might sell 100 – 300 books a year in perpetuity is quickly marked out of print.

“Publishing on demand,” or POD, is a technology that solves the problem of small press runs. POD marries laser proofing technology with conventional bindery equipment to create a book production system that is as efficient at printing a one-of book as it is 2,000 books. Of course the unit cost is much, much higher and the production rate much lower than offset but back listed books that once would have gone out of print can be quickly and effectively produced by a Lulu or Lightning press one at a time at a cost point guaranteed to earn the publisher a profit.

To a small to medium sized publisher POD is a revolution. Not only does the use of POD eliminate an investment in inventory but the quality of publication is greater or equal to that produced by offset. The simple elimination of large inventories allows smaller publishers to publish more books than they otherwise could and the availability of POD published works guarantees that no book will ever go out of print. The agility of POD will almost guarantee that new and exciting works will flow to those publishers who using POD, will be able to respond quickly and decisively to the market. By reducing the cost to market while maintaining expected quality will insure the publisher using POD will have an advantage over their more conventional competition.