About Mitzvah Chaps

. . . the term mitzvah has also come to express an act of human kindness.

On How/What Things Were Printed

Until Dayn Perry’s Drinking with Boileryard Clarke (2013), all of the chapbook interiors were printed at home on my laser printer, a Canon MP620 that I got for $100 at Best Buy. All interiors are printed on acid free, archival quality paper, 24#-28# bond, white. The layouts were done by me (which is why some of them, especially the early ones, were pretty shoddy), using Adobe InDesign CS5.

The covers were printed in a variety of ways. For Brandon Brown’s Wondrous Things I Have Seen, and Joseph Wood’s Gutter Catholic Love Song, I made scans of drawings using the same Canon printer/scanner and then cleaned them up and fit them to the paper size, then printed them using my Canon. The drawings were done specifically for the chapbooks and free of charge by two saints: Kari Freitag and Jamie Lacore, respectively. I printed Brandon’s cover onto pieces of Arches cold press paper (140#) that I tore by hand from 16″x20″ sheets to 6″x7″ rectangles, one each for front and back cover, which needed to be printed separately. I used a similar paper for Joseph’s cover, but Jamie’s drawing was actually printed on white photo paper and affixed to the Arches paper using two-sided tape and photo corners.

The cover for Anne Boyer’s Art is War was a scan of a 3D collage by H.A. Savage, also done specifically for the chapbook. I then formatted the scan and printed on thin white cardstock at Kinko’s. The covers for Alli Warren’s Well Meaning White Girl were printed the same way; Anne Boyer designed Alli’s cover and just sent me a jpg to manipulate. Neither Savage nor Boyer were paid for their covers. It was all love.

Mike Hauser’s Psychic Headset had screenprinted covers designed and printed by the artist Aaron Marable at his home in Lawrence. Drawings that Aaron did for the book appear in the chap as the title page and a sort of colophon at the end. I paid Aaron $100 and whatever materials cost, far less than what his time was worth, but all I could afford at the time.

The most complicated was Chuck Stebelton’s A Maximal Object. Marie Larson, a visual artist by training but also a fine poet, designed the cover image, had a plate made, then pressed the covers using a press at Naropa University; gold ink on a black, heavy-but-not-rigid stock with some nice grain to it. I don’t know a lot about paper; Marie did a good job selecting it on her own (she was in Boulder and I was in Lawrence and I just trusted her). This was the first book that I “published” and I had all this student loan money for my first year of grad school and I wanted it to benefit other people so I paid Marie $700 for her work (and reimbursed her for the materials, too), which is closer to what something like that would be worth on the “open market”, but probably still not enough. I have no idea: I’m not a business man, and I am horrible with money. I just wanted people — namely Chuck and Marie — to be happy with this first book. I wanted to “do right” by all the people who were involved, and all the people I knew and loved who had been making beautiful chapbooks, like Scott Pierce of Effing Press, which is how I came to know Anne Boyer’s work in the first place, and pretty much why I started making books. Anyway, I think Marie was surprised that I paid her that much, but I was happy with the book, and happy to pay her.

Periodicity of Publications

I did two books a year for the first three years, 2008-2010. I had selected two manuscripts to do in 2011, but then I ran out of steam finishing my MFA thesis and editing Beecher’s Magazine. Also, my poor money management had caught up to me and I just couldn’t afford to do nice chapbooks like I wanted to do. I had to abandon those manuscripts and I still feel guilty about it. One was for a good friend who I feel like I really let down.

On Distribution Methods & Editions

Until Dayn Perry’s book, all of the books were printed in editions of 125, with thirty copies going to the author and five copies to the cover artists. I always told the authors and artists that if they ran out, I would give them more. I’ve always done that upon request.

It was my intention, at the start, to give all Mitzvah Chaps away to anyone who wanted them, but Anne Boyer told me that I shouldn’t do that, so I sold some at readings and set up a crappy looking blogspot with PayPal links. I definitely sold some copies, and a few of them sold especially well, considering the context: I didn’t do any promotion and had very little interest in doing any. Well, I did always send copies to Ron Silliman in hopes that he would list the titles in his “Recently Received” posts on his blog, which he did, and I think I probably sold a number of chaps that way.

I still sent out for free or gave away many of the copies. I worked hard on them, and so did the poets and the artists, and I spent money making them, but I worked that hard and spent that money so I could have the joy of presenting the author with a nice object that celebrated his/her work, and so that I could relish the giving away — I don’t want anyone to take away my right to give, to love, but I think there are forces in the world that try to do that sometimes. There is no joy after the joy we have in this life: fuck it.

On the Style of Bindings, Formats, and Sizes of the Books

I bound all the books myself, at home, using the simplest saddle stitch, except on Brandon’s book — that was a bit more complicated, but I just made it up, I didn’t ever learn that stitch anywhere. People offered to help stitch from time to time but I never wanted help, I’m very selfish that way. Moreso, I figured that if the binding looked shitty, I wanted to blame only myself.

I also wanted each book to look different. I choose artists whose sensibilities matched the manuscript (in my opinion). I tried to fit the poems to the layout, etc. I’m not a professional, and if I were to make all those books over again I would be better at laying them out and putting them together now. But it was a process that I loved — I loved the whole thing.

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