Deadfalls & Snares (in the Love Economy)
deadfalls and snares Samantha Giles
Futurepoem (Fall 2014)
Cover design: Everything Studio
Interior design: HR Hegnauer
Details: Paperback, 6×8 inches, 89 pages, $16
Set in: Spectrum
It must visually entice. It must (usually) communicate the title and the identity of the author. It may illuminate, distill, or illustrate the text. It may hint or it may explicitly state. It must be disruptive to the attention, in order to attract and hold it, yet integrated well enough into its category to fill the expected function. It wraps at the same time it reveals. It should remain effective reduced to thumbnail size. It must first prompt the mind, and then the body. The book must end up in your hands.
The cover of Samantha Giles’s deadfalls and snares presents the viewer with an array of objects on a matte black ground, each isolated in space, askew, glossed with spot varnish. The scale is out of whack—the wingspan of an albatross (largest of any extant bird) on the front seems roughly equal to the length of the “American Classic” handgun on the back. Not all of the objects are identifiable, cropped and contextless, but we see a mammalian skull, a glow stick, a glass sphere, an animal tooth, the corner of a brass dog tag. A pop-top can of food (perhaps rations) wraps over the spine. On the back: the loop of a noose, the titular snare. Some polished stones. The handgun. A jalapeño pepper.
There are more of these objects strewn inside, under the french flaps, sans varnish: a pile of sand (or ash?), a feather, a megaphone, more bone, more glow sticks, a starfish, the moon (maybe), a disembodied tail of white fur.
How do these objects relate to one another? How do they relate to the text? Following this set-up, what does the viewer now expect?
deadfalls and snares consists of three sections: Insertion, Invasion, Inversion. Other than these section headers, the pieces have no titles. Each section begins with its own collage, centered around the theme of whiteness, phrases sourced from Moby Dick. Like the objects on the cover, the text strings in these italicized blocks are divorced from their natural surroundings, regrouped, presented for examination. Here is an excerpt from the block opening Invasion (p. 29):
what the white was has been hinted at it was the whiteness that above all things appalled me […] this phenomenon of whiteness is not confessed: sailing through a midnight sea of milky whiteness—as a shrouded phantom of the whitened waters fear of that hideous whiteness as the fear of that hideous whiteness that so stirred me that white-lead about whiteness is but a white flag hung out solving the incantation of this whiteness […]
And so on.
The interior design is clean and rather simple. The traditional feeling and readability of the typeface suits the text and its arrangement, becomes (properly) invisible. The pages are white, not cream, which was perhaps a meaningful choice, considering.
And here is where the poet’s own formal choices are understood to be design elements themselves: Giles uses the usual left-aligned pattern for many of her pieces, but also the italicized prose blocks above, as well as narrow full-justified columns that drift toward the right side of the page, centered columns of centered text, right-aligned sections, left-aligned transcriptions, and these italicized arrays:
I heard Giles read from this section in Philadelphia a few months ago, where she briefly explained these chunks are descriptions of photographs taken of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Like the objects on the cover, each is taken out of its natural context and displayed on a stark ground. They are both hyperspecific and lacking detail, focused mostly on color and shape, as if the camera isn’t quite focused on its subject, or only in part, both looking and refusing to completely see. Flesh colors: pink blur pink blur pink blur smudged with tan pink blurring into tan tan blur. Human shapes: pink blur blending into grey pink blurring into grey with upper triangle curved into human flesh entire frame filled flesh with markers to indicate where flesh meets flesh and bends.
Deadfalls & Snares by A.R. Harding (self-published, 1907) is what it sounds like: a book of instructions for trappers, particularly those trapping fur-bearing animals for profit. It’s an ominous and unacknowledged connection here, and one that resonates with the hunting theme running through the Moby Dick sections too. I think the second section of Giles’s book, Invasion, may recycle some phrases from its namesake’s chapters on “skinning and stretching, handling and grading.” These pieces are centered:
place the hands
in the necessary position
such a small, small gesture
you be the dog
and you be the person.
know what pose
you are trying to replicate
the bend of the legs
curve of the back
placement of feet
trappers always have
the necessary tools
to determine the small
from the pushed down
just place the head of one
to the tail of the other
and properly cure
The description of posing an animal during the taxidermy process resonates eerily with the way the prisoners were posed in “the photographs that shocked the world.” These centered pieces are interrupted by transcriptions. I wasn’t able to find a source for these in a quick search, so can’t confirm whether they are actual or invented conversations. It almost doesn’t matter, since they are largely hemmed-and-hawed and redacted:
Voice One: Hello.
Voice Two: [redacted]? [redacted]? [redacted]?
Voice One: Yeah.
Voice Two: How are you doing?
Voice One: … uh I uh …
Voice Two: You missed the [unintelligible].
Voice One: Hey you’ve been uh doing uh [inaudible] and …
Voice Two: How are you making out?
Voice One: Well it’s coming along [unintelligible] interrupting uh really.
Voice Two: Well [inaudible].
Voice One: But uh you’re you’re [unintelligible] doing the best here.
Voice Two: A lot of uh uh pressure.
Voice One: Yeah, well [inaudible].
And so on.
There’s so much more to say about this book, and were I doing an actual review* I would try to say more of it. I’d want to discuss the shift in pronouns through the sections—where Insertion conflates everybody (every body) into a conglomerate I, the Invasion insists on addressing only you, and Inversion calls us all out with we. I’d explain how even the cover’s innocuous jalapeño becomes weaponized by page 13. I’d draw a comparison between these abstracted, aestheticized treatments of torture with this heavily redacted and perhaps just as artfully constructed one.
See also: Here’s a similar cover treatment (different subject, press, and designer) but arranged in an orderly grid. Dana Ward’s book The Crisis of Infinite Worlds, also from Futurepoem, was also designed by Everything Studio.
& briefly, a chapbook design I’ve recently appreciated:
Living in the Love Economy: Poems Written During Year of Unemployment Patricia Spears Jones
Publisher: Overpass Books (Spring 2014)
Design & layout: C. John Barrows
Details: 4.5 x 7.25 inches, 48 pages, $10
I read with Patricia Spears Jones at KGB on December 1, a highlight of my year. She read several poems from this book, including the title piece. I ordered it first thing the next morning. Slipcovered in textured gold card stock with a thumb notch, the stapled pamphlet slides out in spare and elegant simplicity, which I think fits the dailyness and forthright presentation of Spear Jones’s poems. (I find it really hard to resist anything slipcovered, except furniture.) Even without imagery, the bold color and the enticing thumb notch get the job done: it must be opened. Here’s one of my favorites:
There are many lessons learned in life
But few come from tragedy—I know, I know
What makes you stronger and all that. Rot
You learn more from what makes you laugh
How much pleasure the tongue can bring and where it was placed
The sweet look on your lover’s face. Or how loud P FUNK
Could be on stage and off NOT JUST KNEEDEEP
The towers falling; a man shot in the back
All terrible, but: What can you do about that?
What can you make of a world so wedded to injustice?
How dare you name the oppressor and demand his head,
His badge, his ranch or those secret accounts in the Maldives?
It is not as if the struggle is useless, it is that it continues.
But joy, where is it? What does it look like, smell like—bergamot
Lemons, honey, roses, musk?
To find it, is to explore a path where the stumbles are many
The curses frequent, but the rewards
…yeah, she got you, didn’t she? You can read the title poem at Kweli Journal. [PDF]
Living in the Love Economy was printed in an small edition of 250, so I’d get one soon if I were you, and check out the other offerings from Overpass here.
Does anyone recognize this typeface? It’s a pretty classic-looking serif, but I love the curls on the G and the Y, which remind me of Patricia when she flashes her wit.
*Happy launch day, Real Pantsers. I’m going to be talking about book design in this column, which is probably obvious, but not just design. My posts won’t quite be reviews per se—but because good design is also about function, I will be talking about how the object’s conception and presentation resonates with (or complicates or undermines) the object’s content. And wherever I wander from there.
If you want to show me a book design to consider, you can tweet at me (@Shanna_Compton) with #bythecover, or email my infrequently checked Real Pants email address shanna at real pants dot etc.