Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Explorers, life, mushrooms, yellow

Some years ago now, when I was young and green in blogging, and very first made the acquaintance of Plutarch, I discovered the first ten or so of his Handbook for Explorers sonnets, which he had begun posting on a blog of their own.  I asked if I could take one for submission with some photos for an edition of Qarrtsiluni's Ekphrasis edition - strictly speaking this was not ekphrasis at all as it's mostly understood, since that's usually words in response to image rather than the other way around, but the editors at the time were prepared to be easy about it - so that was how it started.  Then I asked if I could have the whole sequence of fifty poems to illustrate in the same way, and Plutarch kindly agreed.  The results were posted in groups of five at the shared blog which bears the name Compasses.  

It was a wonder-filled time and thoroughly enjoyable project.  I received the sequence to read in groups of about ten, I think, and was entirely free to respond with pictures in any way I fancied, the only condition Joe made being that I read them all in sequence before starting to post.  It was not only my very heady early years of blogging and of the pleasure in the contacts that it brings, but also of taking digital photographs, and having a sustained prompt and purpose to the activity seemed to sharpen the vision and strengthen my drive.  Sometimes the poems drew me to photos already taken at another time and place - some of the early ones on our trip to New Zealand before I blogged at all; other times I had an idea of where I might find the right pictures to match those in the text - the images for the about hostile horses 'savage flesh made air' I knew exactly could be found in the small, ramshackle old children's carousel in St Brieuc pedestrian precinct which I'd always found rather sinister.  At other times I simply walked around with the poems in my head and recorded what came along.

It had a small but loyal and appreciative audience, often sent to read from both our own blogs, and some of you are still around now.  The strength of it lay of course in the remarkable, consistently meditated and sustained themes and visions of the sonnet sequence, my role was happily opportunistic and secondary, but we all know we rather like pictures with our words sometimes, like we like cream with our puddings!  The problem with it was the 'upside-down' blog format for a longer piece of work, which was not so bad when people were reading it as it appeared but made it difficult to go back over it satisfactorily.  Then we started using the blog for the occasional 'Questions' call and response poems, so the original series has disappeared from view altogether.

A short time after we finished, I signed up with Blurb and began to try to rework it into book form, but made little headway.  Blurb's software at the time was jumpy and frustrating, and perhaps it was a bit too recent a project to go back over straight away.  Then last year when I visited Joe in England, he had another Blurb book that his brother had made up of words and photos, and he very un-pushily (of course) said he wondered if such a thing might be done with the Handbook for Explorers...?

I let it drift again a bit longer than I meant to, but when I signed up again with Blurb (the original one I began had disappeared) the whole thing went so smoothly: the software worked easily, and coming to it afresh after such a long gap was a real joy.  There was so much I'd forgotten about it, but the feelings came rushing back: the new and exciting vision which taking photographs brought, and the sense of pride that I was handling a unique piece of work that no one except its author had probably had much to do with before, and the associations with times and places which both words and pictures evoked - especially poignant were the photos, including the one I used for the cover, which I had taken in New Zealand at moments I remember very clearly spent with my sister, sometime uncertain quite why I was taking photos of bits of grass and sand and stone on beaches, but which are now vividly and intensely bound up with those moments, and which their use in this project somehow served to strengthen.

Happily (or else he's just being polite...), Joe seems to have forgotten that he made the suggestion which spurred me to take up the project again, as he was very gratifyingly surprised when the book arrived! 

Inevitably, though I proof-read it both on-line and in a first print that I ordered, I now see there are a few errors of spacing which will forever annoy me, though I think the text is sound otherwise.  I didn't change much at all from the original, except that the pictures no longer break up the lines of the poems.  This is partly of necessity in that the page formats don't easily allow for it, but it's also something I don't care to do any more anyway; I prefer poems intact and images accompanying to one side, above or below them, on the whole. But I didn't want to change it too much otherwise because I felt that it needed to be reprised as it was, and the sense of association and recall that it created for me was also something I didn't want to interfere with, even if the product was a flawed one. 

Which I think it is - not the poems, those are Joe's and I don't find any fault with them.  But the photographic responses are a mixed bag.  The freedom I enjoyed so much led, I think to a fairly patchy experience.  The pictures lack the consistency that they really should have to match that of the poems, they are not all of a piece and are often distracting and intrusive.  That's what I think now, of course, but it doesn't matter, in keeping with the medium used, it was a dynamic, spontaneous and ultimately largely ephemeral thing.  Some of them worked very well, some less so, but I had no objection to recreating the more static and archival form of a book from them.  Having done so, however, I'm now thinking what I could do with it instead.

The quality of the printing is really excellent, I am very pleased and impressed with it indeed.  There is a hover fly on the yellow flowering twig in one of the pictures shown in the collage above which I never knew was there before, even though I took the photo, edited and used it here and elsewhere on Box Elder. Even the very small reproductions are very fine.  The binding also seems good (Blurb had a lot of complaints about binding before, which was another thing which put me off doing it earlier).  But print-on-demand, quite large format, with colour pics of this quality is fairly expensive. However, Blurb also make much less expensive black and white, smaller format paperbacks, which can contain black and white illustrations including photos, but the reproduction will be much simpler and more minimal ('an edgy look and feel' is I think how they describe it, never quite sure what 'edgy' is supposed to mean...).  Severely reducing the selection of photos to those which would more properly (in my view) complement the text (I would still use the original photos, but edit them appropriately) and which could be successfully rendered  in a much simpler, starker, more abstract form would give the poems the pre-eminence they deserve and hopefully make for a much tighter, more coherent piece of work, and a more affordable book for anyone who was interested.  I'd enjoy doing it.

(The current book is to be found at Blurb, here )


More stuff.  Life drawing, best of.  Not really much to show for five two hour sessions.  This is because I don't practise.  I go home all fired up and determined to do so, usually after spending two-thirds of the time frustratingly producing duds, but feeling more excitedly happy and engaged than at almost any other time anyway, and then I don't.  I might not be able to get anyone round here to take their clothes off for me (while discussing the pros and cons of female rounds and curves against male flat planes and straight lines Tom did venture to say that he could probably offer more curves than flat bits... TMI really), I could very easily practice from photos and work on hands, feet, portraits etc.  Tom dug me out some books on techniques and figure drawing, and I am resolved to apply myself. The tutor is trying to get enough people together to do a whole Sunday studio of longer poses, which will be great, so if you're in the Lamballe area on March 12 and fancy a day of life drawing, let me know.

The young pregnant woman, L., was superb, and just a lovely person, very serene and steady.  The male model, O, (a rare and sought-after thing, it seems), was slender and stringy and very wobbly,struggled to hold a pose, more so, if anything, in the apparently relaxed positions than in the more twisted up or dynamic ones - he struck a number of slightly unsettling Raft-of-the-Medusa-ish and other rather anguished romantic attitudes, but he had fabulous brows and hair, would have been a good portrait or photo model, as would the tall, dark woman we had last, J, who was also very strong and steady, but changed poses very rapidly.  I love life-drawing.


And some pretty little oyster mushrooms from the organic supermarket, not quite sure what to do with them apart from photographing them.


It seems to suit me to do one big post about once a week at the moment.  Rather a lot to prevail on people to read but them again you can always come back later if you want, as I'm not posting so often.


Lemon zest grated into a blend of cold-pressed olive and rapeseed oil and lemon juice, with a spoonful of honey, marinade for chicken piccata  (thanks Catalyst), must surely be the yellowest thing in the world. 


Roderick Robinson said...

On verra.

marja-leena said...

Oh my, I am so impressed with your many talents, Lucy, the latest this wonderful wonderful book! I love your story behind it. I well remember those gorgeous posts so am pleased you have taken on putting them into a hand-held object of beauty. congratulations!

the polish chick said...

love the pregnant picture.

as for the oyster mushrooms, they are fabulous sauteed in a garlicky cream sauce over pasta. bon appetit.

julia said...

I am struck by the picture of the man, it looks primeval, darn I have non of the vocabulary of an art critic but he'd look good as cave art!

(fried in butter and served on hot, buttered toast with a nice cup of tea)

Rosie said...

I always find it interesting,( but painful at the same time!), to revisit my projects after sufficient time has passed. A nice surprise for Joe...

Jean said...

The book looks absolutely beautiful - infused, I'm sure by all the emotions you recall here as well as by vast amounts of patient and creative effort.

Chula Wula D'Augue said...

Thank you for yet another good read. I live in both California and France, and have an idea for a blog post. Could you please let me know how to contact you?

Zhoen said...

Had a dream that you and Mol stopped by. I wasn't entirely sure I recognized you at first, but I knew Molly immediately. And Moby went right behind her and accepted a dog in his house, at least that dog.

Rouchswalwe said...

It wasn't until I stumbled upon the Nicolaides volume "The Natural Way to Draw" that lightning stuck for me. The wonderful description of your book project gives me hope that I will be able to work on mine this year.

On a completely unrelated topic ... Downton Abbey has reached the end of the second season here.

Lucy said...

Thanks all very much.

I combined the two oyster mushroom suggestions and put them in the garlicky cream sauce on toast with poached eggs! They were very tasty (I added a few girolles out of a jar to make up the numbers), so thanks PC and Mouse.

Zhoen - that's lovely! Though I fear Molly probably wouldn't conduct herself well enough to put Moby so at ease in reality...

R - making books seems to be where it's at just now, funny really we've come full circle to that after discovering ourselves on-line. I'll be interested to hear about yours; it really is very satisfying. There were things about this I'd probably do differently again, for example the different page templates seem to compress the text differently, so there's a lack of consistency with it. Regularising that would perhaps mean further sacrifice on the photos, but I think it would be a better finished product... never mind, it came out nicely and we were both pleased with it. I might still do the b/w version, which might be cheap enough to give away some as presents. We'll see.

Marly Youmans said...


I like this bundle of news--the book (always interesting to hear how people get to an alternative book), the lovely mushrooms, the back-to-drawing enterprise.