Rachel Kendall interviews the artist, poet and editor...
RK. Your poems have graced Sein's print and electronic pages for a number of years now, but for this issue you've submitted something I hadn't heard of before, an art form you call 'pollage'. Can you tell me a little about this?
EL. I was a papermaker long before I was a poet, and I have a book on the subject published in several languages. Its title in the U. S. is THE GOURMET PAPER MAKER and in England THE PAPERMAKER. The book specializes in paper made from inedible parts of fruits and vegetables. I've been a poet for fifteen years, and much of that time have also dabbled in collage for the recycled leather covers of folk art books that I bind. But I didn't think of combining these three passions until a couple of years ago when I made an oversized sheet of paper and embedded one of my poems in the wet pulp and then illustrated the poem with various items I've collected for much of my life. These items include: handmade papers, postage stamps, photos, confetti, charms, milagros, buttons, shells, rocks, bark, natural fiber yarns, feathers, wheat, pressed leaves and flowers, rubber stamped images, travel memorabilia and book/magazine clippings. I dubbed this new (to me) art form pollage. I've now produced 70-plus pollages.
I think this is a great concept. I wonder, do the found objects inspire your poems or do you write the poems first and decide how to decorate them later?
Each pollage design is constructed around a existing poem or poems. I choose the poems first, taking into consideration how they might relate if there is more than one poem in a pollage. Length is always a consideration because I usually hand-write the poems and haven't yet found a way to use handmade paper in a printer without impairing the printer, as some of the tiny particles in handmade papers can loosen and clog it.
When selecting the poems, I take into consideration how illustratable they are. After choosing, I sort through my various collections to find tangible articles to represent images in the poems and/or the themes in them. I decide early-on the color scheme for each pollage. Poems usually speak to me in colors, so that part is easy. The importance of doing these steps before I make the sheet of paper is that I plunge much of the illustrative items into the wet pulp after the sheet is formed. Of course, the first items I plunge into the pulp are the poems themselves, which I've written in permanent ink on separate pieces of handmade paper.
I follow the poems with anything that I'm going to use that is made of cellulose (paper, plants, natural fibers, etc.) because it will dry along with the pulp and actually become part of the paper, instead of just floating on the surface via glue. So the plunging items would be things such as feathers, paper scraps, postage stamps, dried flowers and foliage, all natural fibers, bark, etc. What I add after the sheets have dried are the charms and buttons (sew on), rubber stamped paper fragments, etc. and anything additional that balances the art in the piece.
It's interesting that your poems speak to you in colours. Do you only use your own poems or do you use those by other poets too, and do those also speak to you in colours?
For my own pollages I use only my poems, but I have also begun freelancing pollages for other writers' book covers. This entails reading someone's manuscript (and copy editing it, if they request) to find images and themes that are illustratable. I call this venture Custom Cover Creations. E-mail address: email@example.com. The idea for it came after I designed the front cover artwork for my chapbook, Stroking David's Leg, as a pollage. I liked the concept so much that I decided to offer it to others on a freelance basis. It felt natural to offer copy editing as part of the package, since I'm also an editor.
Yes, I do see color in others' poems when I'm considering how to illustrate them. Sometimes the colors are inherently apparent in the poem; other times it happens solely from sensations I get when reading the poem. Still other times, it's because I happen to have a good combination of papers and/or memorabilia in a specific color theme.
Attached are two photos of front cover pollages I've designed: for my own above mentioned collection, Stroking David's Leg, and the other for a full collection, Morph, by Jessie Carty.
I'm curious to know if other art forms have this same synesthetic effect. Does a piece of music, for instance, evoke colours for you?
What an interesting question and one that has required some thought. It seems I don't consciously think in terms of colors with the other art forms, perhaps because the choice of colors has already been made by the artists in the performing arts and many of the visual arts.
Color comes to me when I think on a deeper level what a poem or piece of writing really means, as I need to do with my own when I go to present it in a pollage. Also, I often see colors in poems that I'm professionally editing and in the finalist poems when judging contests. And I see colors in nearly all poems that make a strong impact on me. I guess I find color in the process of analysis. So listening to music doesn't bring colors to mind, as I'm not a composer or musician and don't examine it critically.
Books are near sacred for me because I'm primarily a tactile learner, meaning that I have to touch or hold something to retain it well. That's as opposed to learning through hearing or seeing something. Electronic books and audiotapes are nightmares for me for this reason. Reading with comprehension on the computer screen is difficult too, but when a document is important, I print it so I can hold it.
Then there's the paper aspect of books that appeals to me. I love the feel and sound of paper as I read. If paper is of high quality, it's such a sensual experience. It's no surprise that I've been a papermaker for the past thirty years and that I've found another way to combine paper and poems in the pollages.
That is so interesting, actually, the fact that you see the colour at the point of analysis. I would have expected it to have been on a more unconscious level. I could discuss this with you at great length but alas this is the '5 question interview' and I wanted to end by asking you about books. Your poem, Bookworm, describes a kind of artist's dilemma, even a sense of guilt, as s/he pores over the books waiting to be altered/revivified. What is a book (the physical item) to you?
Another big factor for me regarding published books is the permanency of them. They exist in people's private collections and in libraries. They will always be here, as much as any tangible thing can be. For this reason, I try to get my work published first in print and later reprinted electronically. I've had way too many poems and essays disappear from the Internet after a few years. The sites have either gone down, or the archives became overloaded, so the older issues of journals have been deleted. This won't happen with books, that is unless too many people start making pollages.:)
Yes, I do destroy old books sometimes by cutting words and pictures out of them and by using parts of their covers in my pollages. The first time was in a motel room in Taos, New Mexico, after attending a library sale where old or damaged books sold for a quarter each and were otherwise headed for the dump. I had to do the dismembering in the motel because the books were too big and heavy for my suitcase. It wasn't emotionally easy. I left the remains in a pile in the bathroom, feeling like I had performed an abortion. I wrote the poem, "Bookworm," in the airplane on the flight home, feeling as though I should confess my sin. Why do I continue to do it? Because the drive and thrill I get from the pollages are greater than the guilt from defacing the books.
Ellaraine Lockie is a widely published and awarded author of poetry, nonfiction books and essays. Her chapbook, Where the Meadowlark Sings, won the 2014 Encircle Publication's Chapbook Contest. She teaches poetry workshops and serves as Poetry Editor for the lifestyles magazine, Lilipoh. She is currently judging the Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contests for Winning Writers. She kindly agreed to be interviewed for Sein und Werden.