Thursday, March 22, 2012

Writing Poems in Fibonacci Sequence

Every spring since 2001, Karren Alenier, a.k.a. the Steiny Road Poet, has been teaching poetry workshops in Arlington Virginia elementary schools. It’s a seasonal job she loves, getting to meet class after class of young poets with fabulous names like Rabia, Yabsera, Anamitra, Xavier, Liana, Mayari, Maddie, Sophia, etc.

Recently she taught poetry workshops where math and science played a role. She introduced Fibonacci numbers and then had students write what she called a Fibonacci verse. She told the students it was similar to haiku. In haiku, the poem is constructed in three lines with a syllable count of five, seven, five. In Fibonacci verse, the lines follow Fibonacci sequence starting with syllable counts of 1 and ending possibly with 8, though longer lines are possible. Just to review Fibonacci sequence:
0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc.

Here’s an example:


 (2)for found
 (8)what is counted in natural
(13)growing patterns—like woody spirals of a pinecone—
(21)zero and one to start; 0+1=1; 1 plus 1, 2; 1 and 2, 3;
(34)2+3=5; 3+5, 8; 5+8, 13; 8+13, 21; 13+21, 34; and so on

At the Patrick Henry Elementary School, the students of Ms. Tammy John were so enthusiastic about the workshop, they wrote a group poem (a variation on the Fibonacci verse) after the Steiny Road Poet left and then they sent her a huge thank you card signed with all their wonderful names.


……...................And shiny
…….................Seen at night
……...............Different phases
............The many whitish gray craters
Looking like a sweet old man smiling happily down

When one student asked what Fibonacci numbers had to do with poetry, the Steiny Road Poet said it was all about patterns and that writing a Fibonacci verse was much like solving a puzzle. This explanation seemed very satisfying to those students who thought they could not write a poem.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

On a Bed of Gardenias: Author-Publisher Collaboration

My life is poetry. My life is measured by poetry. It is what makes my heart sing and why I get up in the morning. For me, poetry embraces everyone and every thing in my world, my universe. I say all of this to introduce the new relationship I have with a publisher and to give some of the backstory. As a poet who also works in the field of publishing other poets, the Steiny Road Poet thinks these stories are not often told because the struggle to birth a book can be painful and not unlike birthing a human child. In the end, one just wants to celebrate the miracle of the book.

Officially March 2, 2012, in Chicago at the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) Bookfair, Sammy Greenspan of Kattywompus Press facilitated the launch of On a Bed of Gardenias: Jane & Paul Bowles, the Steiny Road Poet’s hefty chapbook of 42 pages. The S.R. Poet is very pleased with the overall book—contents and production. Nonetheless, there were compromises and surprises. This is how legitimate book publishing works. An author is not alone in making a book unless the author goes the route of vanity publishing, meaning a do-it-yourself project.

The Poet has partially told the story about how this book came about in the post entitled “Birth of a New Book: On a Bed of Gardenias: Jane & Paul Bowles.” Now that Gardenias is a reality, the Poet will begin the rest of the story by starting with the cover of this book.

Buyers judge a book by its cover. It’s an unavoidable reality. Sammy’s original design of a Hamsa (Hand of God, Hand of Miriam, Hand of Fatima and also spelled Chamsa, Khamsa, and Xamsa) is fascinating as an introduction to the exotic love story of Jane Auer Bowles (1917-1973) and Paul Bowles (1910-1999), American expatriate writers who lived most of their adult lives in Tangier, Morocco. The Poet suggested that a Hamsa with its cross-cultural ties to Jewish and Muslim symbology would be the right image for her chapbook. Having looked at other books Sammy had been publishing, the Poet understood a simple image would be best. The Poet electronically scanned and sent to Sammy the image of the Hamsa she has worn for years, the one she bought in Marrakech the year before she met Paul Bowles in Tangier. This Hamsa has a nonspecific flower etched into it. However, Sammy did not want to steal the jewelry maker’s design and decided to create her own that is much richer because it includes a gardenia blossom, the head of a long-horned ram and two fish with wild looking eyes. This was Sammy’s surprise gift to the Poet.

In the world of publishing, unveiling a cover as a surprise to the author creates a huge risk. Suppose the author hates the design? Usually what this means is the author will not promote the book enthusiastically. In the case of this author, the design so captivated her that she failed to notice that the title of the book was not accurately printed on the cover although it was correct on the interior title and copyright pages. So there they were: publisher and author suddenly confronted—once they figured it out—with a serious problem. The author was holding over a hundred copies that read On a Bed of Gardenias: Paul & Jane Bowles and the publisher too had an inventory of these books that she had printed for the AWP conference, which was only two weeks away. What to do? Replace the cover, risking damage to the interior pages, or print new books? Sammy decided to print new books and luckily the print schedule was met just in the nick of time for the launch at AWP.

Here the Poet would like to note that the title was a negotiation between publisher and author. The Poet’s working title for the chapbook manuscript was On a Bed of Gardenias: Paul Bowles, Jane Bowles, Love. Sammy and her business partner Bonne de Blas suggested Paul and Jane on a Bed of Gardenias. The Poet thought that was on the order of the children’s book Fun with Dick and Jane. Who were Paul and Jane? A casual reader would not know from that title. The Poet’s next suggestion was On a Bed of Gardenias: The Love Story of Jane & Paul Bowles. Too wordy Sammy said and the Poet agreed. Then the Poet got sloppy and suggested Jane & Paul Siesta on a Bed of Gardenias but she quickly cancelled that suggestion with the title that stuck.

As to the poems themselves, Sammy was a careful reader, and she found a few more things to correct. And this despite the many writers of experienced editorial skills that the Poet engaged to read the manuscript. The Poet was grateful for Sammy’s keen eye. One other thing that happened was Sammy was adamant that anything quoted from the work of Jane and Paul Bowles have permission from the estates of these writers. The Poet opted for taking out the quotes and making up her own. Therefore in the poem “Launch” which supposedly has Paul quoting from Jane’s character Mr. Copperfield in Jane’s novel Two Serious Ladies, the quote is made up. Why would the Poet do this? One reason was to avoid delaying the publication of Gardenias. Getting permission from a dead writer’s estate can be time-consuming and frustrating. But there are other reasons too, like affording royalty fees and suffering restrictions from the literary executors. For the Steiny Road Poet, who has dealt with estates of dead writers, her policy is to use quotes that are truly necessary. So Sammy’s careful approach made the Poet reconsider quoting Jane and Paul Bowles.

Making an author happy with her baby can work wonders. In the case of the Steiny Road Poet, this happiness translated into sales at the Kattywompus Press AWP booth. Believe the Poet when she says the crowd at AWP was a hard sell. Most folks walking around the AWP Bookfair were keeping a tight grasp on their purses and living in fear of acquiring too much weight to carry home. Among the writers, the Steiny Road Poet pitched her book to, and this was without first recognizing her, was Wang Ping, a Chinese poet who has been building readership through her Kinship of the Rivers website. (The Steiny Road Poet's poem "Yangtze River Projects" is published there.) Bringing in buyers to the author-publisher equation is always a huge challenge and the audience/potential buyer is another corner in the box that makes up a strong collaboration. What’s the fourth corner? Critics, of course. But that’s a subject for a different Steiny Road Publishing post. Right now her baby is happily cooing so she is off to feed her.