Holding Mark Cugini’s beautiful chapbook I’m Just Happy To Be Here, scanning the TOC, reading the poems, I had this thought: Mark Cugini is the new Ted Berrigan.
Or if not, he is certainly an inheritor of a Berrigan-esque ecstasy and joy, an amphetamine-like energy and exuberance (though my hunch is Cugini prefers booze to amphetamines). As he says in “Hip Hop Lyrics I (the Bottom, the Bottom), he "can’t take the / Cool Kid drugs without worrying / if he’ll ever be New Hampshire’s / next manic wooden pixie.” Also he looks like Berrigan.
Hip Hop. Anxiety. They’re all over these poems, mixed in with the joy and hyperness. Great sadness and loneliness as well, isolation. Cugini is not “ready for death” but definitely “a fucking nap.” He thinks the “problem with MFA students / is that none of you damn / lames want to drink 40s / and go pick up biddies / at the James Tate reading.” He wants to know if you’re “sure / you meant to invite me to this thing.”
But he’s also not afraid—to be a bit sentimental, or to take on difficult poetic territory like dead firefighters and 9/11. Difficult because all that can so easily turn to schmaltz but doesn’t, or if it does the poem as a whole redeems it, makes room for it because hey, we all get sentimental now and again. It’s part of the human emotional experience.
Take these lines from “O My Island:”
My island, where we looked out our window
and watched them fall, in panoramic—
my island, where the smoke’s still settling
over those dead fireman’s homes—…
There’s more than a little of Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” in this, and Whitman’s spirit is certainly haunting the book as a whole (along with Berrigan’s). The poem “The One Pool,” for example, is an update of Whitman’s twenty-eight young men bathing by the shore, except now it’s a few drunk dudes on the Staten Island ferry going home after a night of drinking in the city and “thinking about when we all / used to dream as big as those two buildings / we’ll never be able to throw up in front of again.” In fact, I just realized, Cugini himself is something like Whitman’s idea of the “rough,” except bellowing out 21st century “real talk.”
It’s been a long three years in poetry school. I barely recognized the girl in 2012 that was afraid to tell people she wrote poems. I’m grateful for all the friends that have stuck around when I was deep in a writing hole - and all the long list of writers and professors that have positively impacted my humanity with their encouragement and pushes. Maybe even the people that make me want to scream, because it’s only made me more determined to write.
The preorder for I WANT YOUR TAN is now available. I cannot thank Amanda McCormick enough for being a creative force with huge ideas. It feels right to release my MFA thesis under Ink Press Productions.
Online, or you can get it at the MFA in CWPA Final Graduation Reading and Book Release on Friday:
“I’m interested in how we might use sophistication to describe some of our most contemporary poetries. Our poems have incredible access to new landscapes. They are rough and digital. They are warm and closer. They are Drake and molly. And really, we know this. There are methods to incorporating this into our poems, into our Huffington Posts, but as Gertrude Stein teaches us, methods aren’t literature. Methods aren’t blood or trying to breathe like, just a little bit bigger with you and our shirtless artists down by the stinking water. I’m trying to use sophistication to say here are some poems by Mark Cugini that understand something about seamlessness, about not privileging one aspect of yourself / your language in your poetry so that all your facets might collapse on top of each other into something glorious and extravagant and uneasy. I’m Just Happy to Be Here possesses an excitement that is observant but never distant. Isn’t that exactly what the title is telling us? And doesn’t it actually mean its position? I’m Just Happy to Be Here are the poems of a growing man complexly picking through what it means to be a growing man, what it means to be a growing man from an island, how it all might be ripped through by what connects it and him both to other land and to the sea.”
We are absolutely in love with Mark’s chapbook, I’m Just Happy To Be Here. We are releasing the handmade, letterpress printed book in March, but we are weeping rainbows and have to share this lovely blurb by Carrie Lorig, author of NODS.
Joseph Young is an artist living in Baltimore, Maryland. Not only is he full of good will, he is a visionary & a foundational personality in the Baltimore Arts community.
Those who know Joe know about his height, hair, & dance moves. Beyond this, he is a talented artist, an artist communicating with language, alert in the visual world. He writes micro glimpses of sensation. They embody life.
Ink Press Productions believes that art should be accessible and valued. Part of our mission is to raise awareness of good people doing cool things. In this mindset, we’d like to introduce Joe’s Small Houses project—an effort to share words that bring art into lives & livelihood into art.
We’ve provided some pictures of Joe’s wall transfers but these images do not do these amazing installations justice. The microfictions of Small Houses are visceral experiences at every stage, from conception through this art as part of life.
Describe the Small Houses project.
Small Houses is my name for the process of writing site-specific microfictions that I then “print” on the wall of a house or other structure by means of the wintergreen oil transfer technique. Briefly, the wintergreen oil transfer technique uses photocopied text or images that are applied to a surface such as a wall, treated with pure wintergreen oil, and then vigorously burnished with a wooden spoon or other tool. This “transfers” the text or image to the wall. As a friend of mine once said they look almost as if the wall were run through a Xerox machine. They have this awesome graphical quality.
I have done such transfers in several gallery spaces and in several homes, including my own and that of friends. Now, I’m accepting commissions to install these stories in other homes and in public spaces.
How would you like to see the project develop?
With Small Houses, I’d like to expand my work of installing, by commission, original microfictions on the walls of both private homes and public spaces. I’d also like to get the word out about this project to people who don’t know me or my interests in this area.
In addition, I’d like to implement my long-time dream of creating an entire microfiction house, or houses. These otherwise empty or near empty houses would be entirely populated with my microfictions, as if they were the stories of some family who lived in that house but are now absent.
What is mircofiction?
Microfiction are stories of about 15 to 50 words. I’ve focused on writing stories of this type for the past 6 years or so. They are ideal for someone who wants to make their fiction “portable,” that is, to incorporate it into a variety of artistic forms, including visual formats. Microfiction can fit on a wall, or in a collage, or into a sculpture.
Microfiction is also “visual” in itself. In my book of microfictions from Publishing Genius Press, Easter Rabbit, the stories easily fit onto the page with room for a lot of white space around them. Thus the reader’s eye can take them in all at once, as a visual experience. The same is true on a wall.
In addition to Easter Rabbit, I’ve also had a microfiction chapbook with Ink Press, 5 drawings of the maryland sky, and have had my fictions appear in a variety of magazines. You can also read many of them on my blog, verysmalldogs.blogspot.com.
You say the installations are “site-specific.” How will you go about composing the stories?
I need to spend time in the place where the stories will go, getting a feel for the space, staring at the wall, the surroundings, thinking about the people who live or visit that space, meditating on the function of the room (i.e., living room, bathroom, etc). I want the story I’ll write and then install in that space to “fit” perfectly, to reflect upon and enhance it. I also take measurements of the wall space available, take pictures of it, and then design the stories to fit that wall space.
How will you take into account the client’s preferences?
The client has to live with the stories in their home, day after day, and so he or she really has to be happy with it. I ask them about preferences in terms of tone, subject, whatever, and then try to match that. After I write the story, I email it to them to see if they like it, whether they want me to go with it or write another one that will suit them better. I imagine that anyone who would hire me to install a story would want a microfiction written in my style, but that doesn’t mean I can’t work with them to get what they’d love. I’m interested in these installations being well in tune with the everyday spaces they occupy.
What distinguishes this work as ART as opposed to simply text on a wall?
The story has to belong to the particular wall in its particular space. That is, the content of the story has to “fit,” and so does the shape the transfer takes, how it works with the dimensions of the wall itself. But in addition, the transfer also has to have a certain “body” to it; it should feel physical, like an object in itself.
What was your first wall transfer?
The first wall transfer I did was for an art show I collaborated on with the encaustic painter Christine Sajecki at the Antreasian Gallery in Baltimore. The show, which was called Deep Falls, was about the Jones Falls Valley here in Baltimore, and for the show Christine made paintings whose subject was the Jones Falls River and its environs and I wrote a series of microfictions on the same subject. In the show, Christine’s paintings hung on the wall with my stories transferred next to and between them.
How else have you used the wintergreen transfer method?
In so many ways! I’ve transferred words and text to paper, wood, canvas, even slate. I do a lot of collage and other works on paper into which I incorporate transfer. For an outdoors art show at Leakin Park I transferred the word “bird” onto a dozen strips of white canvas, which I then wrapped around tree trunks in the forest. For an art show I was part of in Savannah, GA, I transferred the image of an Ossabaw Hog onto 37 found wood panels along with various phrases, which was then installed in a loose grid on the gallery wall.
When did you first come into contact with the wintergreen transfer technique?
It’s often used in combination with encaustic painting, or painting with molten wax combined with various pigments. Thus, I first learned of wintergreen transfers from the encaustic painter I mentioned above, Christine Sajecki.
Once I discovered the technique I was completely hooked. I’ve spent thousands of hours using the technique in many different ways. For one thing, it’s a perfect medium for someone who, like me, has always been interested in making my writing an object, with a physical presence. With transfers, my text can go almost anywhere, in any size and shape.
For another, I love the element of chance that comes with doing transfers. Though I’ve done thousands of them at this point, no two surfaces take the transfer in the same way, and so I’m never sure before I do it how exactly it will turn out. Will the transfer come out dark and bold, or lighter and more ethereal? Will parts of certain letters or words come out a bit broken or faded? I love that this can happen, these small accidents of broken type, the element of chance in how much the transfer will take. It gives it all a more visual variety and interest and wakes the eye up to what it’s seeing.
I like too how transfer is an imperfect art, how “mistakes” are bound to happen and become part of the work. I’m not a person who likes art that’s overly “clean,” whether in visual art, music, writing, etc. I like to see evidence of the artist’s hand.
How would you describe the smell?
Minty and delicious.
How has your technique evolved?
I’ve learned by trial and error the best ways to apply the transfer to the wall with more uniform spacing between words and lines of words and keeping those lines level and straight. In that first art show, Deep Falls, the lines of text tended to wander, heading uphill and down across the length of the wall, and individual words or letters tended to “jump” and get themselves out of line with their brothers and sisters. It worked well, aesthetically, for that show, which was about a gritty, urban river, but as I’ve started putting stories inside people’s houses, I’ve worked toward gaining a greater degree of regularity.
If you could transfer on any wall in the world, which wall would it be?
Wow, good question. I really love empty houses, I have ever since I was a kid and my mom was the landlord of several big old houses in Michigan. I’d have the keys to these houses when they were empty so I could help my mom paint them and do other work inside. But I’d go over to these houses even when I wasn’t working just to hang out. I loved the quiet of them, the aloneness I could feel there.
So, I guess one fantasy of mine is to be able to work installing stories in a big old farmhouse way out away from everything. I could live there for a few months writing and transferring stories, walking around the farms in the area, looking at the cows and thinking. Then of course there’d be a big “opening” where my friends in the area and the locals too could come see what I’d done.
What is the ideal place for these installations?
Anyplace! In someone’s apartment, house, garage. In the bathroom, the living room, the kitchen. These installations would also be ideal for public spaces since in that way I could share them with many other people. I’d love to put them in a museum, a government office, other galleries, a conservatory for flowers, churches, libraries, etc.
Do you ever incorporate images?
When working with paper or wood, yes all the time, but on walls I only used images once.
A friend of mine, Megan Lavelle, had a project called How We Dwell in which she would invite artists to her apartment for a weekend while she vacated the premises. The artist would then install their art in her apartment. I participated in that project and in addition to transferring text on the walls I also transferred images, which were photos of various objects she had around her apartment that I then made into photocopies and installed on the wall. I was interested in that turning-in and turning-out effect of printing images that already lived in her home, printing stories that were inspired by her home, in a sort of cat’s cradle of referentiality. In fact, I called that installation Cat’s Cradle.
I would like to say, though, that I like the idea of these wall stories standing by themselves, of being art unto themselves without the addition of images. This is not to say I wouldn’t use images if the situation called for it or the client wanted it.
Can you use color?
You can transfer in color, yes. I’ve used color for works on paper but never for wall text. But it could be done!
What is the cost per installation?
I’m interested in allowing access to art. Art can and should be available to any person who wants it. At the same time, I believe in artists getting paid, in their art being valued enough that they can “trade” it for money, which then can be used for all the things we need money for.
Given all that, I’d like to try an experiment in which the client would set the price they’d pay. The idea here is that people who have just a bit of money, but who really wanted a story, would pay a smaller amount. Someone with more money would reflect that in their payment as well. I’d want to negotiate with the client to establish a fair price that fits the situation, just like the work itself.
In this way, I’d hope things would balance out: greater access while I get paid for this labor intensive (both mentally and physically) process.
We’ve been hinting & are ready to announce – Amanda and Tracy have blended I WANT YOUR TAN (May) and & THE GREEN (forthcoming) to create DID YOU COVER UP?, a performance of poetry and movement.
We ask: how do our bodies and minds exist in constant flow of internal and external information? How do we acquire the things we use to project our intentions, things used to protect our bodies indoors or outside? Come to our debut performance and participate in the talk back at UB on June 3 during the Did You Cover Up?: A Poetry Performance.
Thank you Joseph and Mike for helping us film this tone taste <3
“We are reading through over 80 submissions and absolutely stoked about the range of genres and talent we are experiencing. We are narrowing selections down for Joe, but want to say thank you for sending such strong work. It makes the selection process very hard.”
The pre-order for Tim Paggi’s Work Ethic is alive. If you buy the book before January 30th, you will receive an audio file of Tim reading all the poems. You can work hard at living anywhere. Then, join us for the release party on Thursday, January 30th at The Crown, more details to come! All we can tell you that something will be resolved.
This is going to be a circus. Artichoke Haircut put together readings representing Ink Press Productions, Publishing Genius, 5ive:Ten, and Shattered Wig. Plus there will be palm reading, blackjack, and face-painting.
Amanda McCormick shares her thoughts on our most recent publication, printing, and being human:
In dreams I find myself running along a fast pace car to keep up with people who do not have names. I’m running at times smiling, feeling light or barely able to breath through the slog of snow.
A life has taken me here, today in 2014 I finally see a shape of existence that I can trust. This is a path, eager to sustain itself, that I want to take. I feel welcomed and invigorated to be a part of a community that believes in the power of art, how creation can be pure. The things we create have life that emits essence of how we can do things ourselves. As artists, that is what we are equipped for, we do not have to wait. We do not need approval. In this community, there is no secret that I want to take this further with Ink Press Productions*, I really want to create love & bonds.
When I moved to Baltimore over a year ago, the talented poet & visionary, Tracy Dimond, and I launched Ink Press Productions with Tracy’s first book Sorry I Wrote So Many Sad Poems Today—a handmade collection released in February 2013. We were inspired by the ambitious ideas we talked about. We threw ourselves into determination & thought we could bring people cheer and belonging through art and collaboration (we still think this). I believe books are art. They are diverse in their ability to be themselves. Hmm—what does that mean? BOOKs—a container for pages of literature, of art, of blank pages. Books, as objects, live inside a rhetorical container—just as this essay has its own rhetorical container & my brain, a rhetorical container that society is free to judge me for.
For over a decade I have wanted to be a publisher. Now I can see my goals materialize, take life, and push me to create, to try some new kind of idea. I always wanted my pure chance; to live life like I own it, to believe in what I have to offer, to have a relationship with my perceptions. Through years of looking, I am now an adult. I wish to make my own choices, build a lifestyle around making things—as objects and as happenings—I believe best when I create. When I create for people. I want to spend my life making things that bring people conviction & confidence.
Just over a year later, Ink Press Productions is about to publish our 6th book, Mark Cugini’s I’M JUST HAPPY TO BE HERE. Everything has its intricate elements. Everywhere there are a million chances for mistake and there will invariably be plenty of them. Because of this I am proud to have numerous hands in our projects. The hands come with mistakes and wonderful brilliance. You people make me feel love. I can’t stop loving the host of collaborations that have come with Ink Press. We will be launching IJHTBH this Sunday, March 16th at the Three Tents Reading Series in DC after Saturdays ago, 20 hands and 8 paws, chatted over folding paper and Straw-Ber-Ritas—we had beans and sang music. Hold your book and understand that it comes from somewhere.
Since its conception, IPP has been the brain-child of mainly me & Tracy, and we are grateful for the help we received. We are complemented with our achievements & we want to keep going. We want our production family to grown, make a flower. We are particularly grateful to two talented artists, Joseph Young & Juliannah Francina, giving their loyal support and coming onto what we concoct. We are keen to make a collective, share ideas and resources. If YOU would like to touch art & join our team, send me an email.
Things are constantly overlapping and changing—weird that all the things surrounding me were first a concept. I am living the years I had once imagined. In the past 6 months, Baltimore has become my home and I am still excited for all the wonderful opportunities that have popped up since moving here. This summer I’m moving into Joseph Young’s sweet house in Hampden on Chestnut Street where we will set up a semi-public, gorilla style studio and events space for Ink Press Productions. When I tell friends the news, they exclaim, “what’s gonna happen with Tracy?!” It is a sad day leaving our first in-home Ink Press Saloon but we have high hopes that IPP Hampden will help us grow thick roots in Baltimore. We are excited to share & create art with summer bbqs & other sweet gatherings & events.
Still of course, I fear the paranoid doomed failure > < is it following us? Limitations surround our human life; our art constantly faces the reality that we live in a capitalist society where we need money to gather things we require / desire that we do not have the resources to own or produce (i.e.—rent / (ha) studio space).
So I understand that I need money to be able to devote my life to art. Other people I know need money too so as “artists” we need a way to make money. With goals so abundant, I aim for a trillion details. I remind myself that we need to make plans. We need to make things.
My first favor is this: help me make a collective book of made money. I wonder how many people will mail me $1 adorned how you wish so I can include it in an original book about how we have become under a powerful sky. Send your dollar to 3322 Chestnut St. / Baltimore, MD 21211.
Human life requires us to be complicated so I am asking back for a chance of unity like when I am letterpress printing, I am thinking, I have grown to be a printer! I want be a printer!
For AWP, Amy McDaniel asked me to make coasters for her press, 421 Atlanta. I letterpress-printed two sets with different recipes using hand-set type. I was so proud of the outcome and the process.
I also can’t believe that I already have my second job printing Caleb Stein’s CD covers! After that we’re working with jmww to make a handmade edition of their chapbook contest winner. It is rare that I’ve experienced the thrill of actually making money with something that challenges my love but does not abuse it. To make money in a way that makes me respect myself.
Creating a sustainable income with art is what I will invest my life in, my Self, and I hope that you will help me do this by raising word about IPP offering custom printing & binding services. Give us the chance to create something for you or someone you love.
The thing is about each day, it is that there will always be a million things going and your head is a piece of the environment you are in. Things on things.
Book are things. Art is a thing. We are breathing things and we’re all diverse in our ability to be a self. We are all a self.
* I think it is important to note if only to express the magnitude that Ink Press Productions has effected my life and shaped my identity as an artist that, before moving to Baltimore (in August of 2012 to be exact) I knew little about bookmaking or letterpress printing. Two forms I now feel most “right” working in. Simply discovering the existence of such objects has evolved my existence as a human. Wide-eyed I ate up any experience with handmade books and took a workshop at Baltimore Print Studios. Today I try hard to think outside of what is known to be a handmade book. In printing I aim to think beyond what this form has done and let it discover itself in this era.
Last weekend we had a rad time at the NYC/CUNY Chapbook Festival, then drove to Buffalo for the Buffalo Small Press Book Fair. We got up at 4am on Monday morning so we could join forces with Brian Mihok and David McNamara of sunnyoutside press to do a crazy thing like put together a chapbook in two hours, from initial submissions at the door to a printed book. Brian made a great video that condenses the two hours. See how much everyone is smiling? Many thanks to all the participants, and to Brian and David for inviting us to be part of the event.
Have you been unable to decide what to do with your hands since the popularization of mp3s? We can’t force musicians to bring back the lyric booklet, but we can send you espresso ink V, a compilation of performed literary works featuring many Baltimore favorites. Stay tuned for the release mid-September and for invitations to our listening party at EMP Collective, September 20! If you would like to review the CD, email Amanda McCormick at email@example.com for more information. Help us spread the literary cheer!