February 2001 Musings:
Moon of Ripe Berries
No, no ripe berries in mid-winter New England—though it's springtime in Texas as I write this! These ripe berries have to do with the publishing of a poetry chapbook, which is titled Moon of Ripe Berries.
It's here! And it's been quite an adventure, delving into the world of print. I learned a lot in the process—after seeing several LPs and CDs through from start to finish, this was a whole new frontier.
I went into it knowing nothing. What a glorious lesson in trusting the universe. It very often came down to knowing one question to ask, or one step to take. My job was to take the step, ask the question. As I did, the next would reveal itself.
It started with the Precipice Poems in the fall of 1996. They came about a month apart, and were like taking dictation. Not all the poems come so easily! Soon I started sharing poems in concert, intermingled with the songs. Next thing I knew, people were asking if they were published. It was Frank Allen Philpot, after a concert at his house in Bethesda, Maryland last December, who convinced me to go ahead with the project. I am grateful to Frank Allen for lighting the fire under me!
My daughter Sylva and I walked through the first stages together: laying out the poems on the floor, grouping them into seasons, and selecting those to be included. Sylva did the initial layout, and then we transferred them over to Jeff LeBlanc, who did the graphic design. Jeff helped us choose a font and select paper and cover stock. What an adventure that was, searching through stacks of sample books to find just the right color, texture and weight. Jeff had endless patience—and it's a good thing!
The binding of the book presented the greatest mystery to me, and was the most intimidating part of the process. I discovered that the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts has probably the greatest density of hand bookbinders of any region in the country—a wealth that arose naturally in response to the proliferation of private presses in the area. After several phone calls, I made a visit to the Thistle Bindery in Florence, where David Bourbeau gave me a nutshell introduction to bookbinding, and showed me several examples of beautiful ways to bind a chapbook. By the way, for the uninitiated like I was, a chapbook is simply a small collection of poems, usually 30 to 60 pages in length. David also showed me his letterpress, whereupon I decided to have him hand press the title in silver on the berry-colored cover. His daughter Anja, who has been binding books since she was four, would hand-sew the pages.
As a songwriter and musician, I sometimes envy those artists who work in the physical realm. They have something tangible to show for their work, while mine disappears into the ethers. At the end of a concert there is silence. The closest I can come to what a potter or a sculptor or a carpenter must feel is when I produce a CD—at least I have something I can hold in my hand. My greatest joy in publishing this book came when I got my own hands in it. I decided to score and fold the covers myself. And after the inner pages were printed and individually folded, I laid the neat stacks out side by side and collated each book by hand. How can I express what a moving experience it was, feeling the books literally come together in my hands? It felt almost a reverent act, touching every page of every book, my own hands making the book real. With any large project, it is impossible to understand how much is involved until you get into it. For two and a half months, the book took over my life —which is of course what happens with any creative work. During the last 2-3 weeks, it seemed I was driving into town every day to take care of one detail or another.
And now, Moon of Ripe Berries is complete. I delivered the books to David and Anja, for cover printing and binding, the week before I left for my Florida tour, and they managed to get several finished copies in my hands to bring with me on tour. The rest await me upon my return.
Thanks again to all of you who so kindly encouraged me in this endeavor. See the book for yourself or find out ordering information here. Or see my schedule to find out when I'll be near you—you can get your copy at one of my concerts.
Hope to see you soon!