Wednesday, May 12, 2021

for the love of zines

Once or twice a semester, I get to teach what I call my "Very Brief History of Zines" workshop, where I give a run-down of zines and indie publishing and then help students brainstorm and facilitate the zines they are making for class.  While I am not a very good teacher from a pedagogy standpoint (or a patience one), you can easily  get me to talk enthusiastically about things I care for, so this works somehow. I start with the invention of the printing press right on through the internet and what it's done for zine culture.  I show lots of samples collected during my years of running the Library Zine Nights and the Zine Exchange (which are sort of on hiaitus during covid, but will return full fledged in the fall.)  We talk about seizing the means of distro and production. About marginalized voices.  About the possibilities of the form.  The classes vary--African American History, Sustainable Fashion. But the results are always amazingness when they come together. 

I came to zines much later than many of my 90's counterparts.  I remember hearing about them in the aspirationally cool world of Sassy magazine in 1991, but I probably didn't see one until my sister and her art-class friends started publishing one in the mid-90's. At the time, me and the other editorial section eds of the paper liked to fancy ourselves like the Sassy editors, and had a similar zine-like feel to our pieces, but it was a while before I held one in my hand. .  It's hard to remember what pre-internet teenage America was like--but my sister's zine, printed on her friends home printer, was pretty cool and incorporated art and music and all the usual 90's obsessions.  I was already in college at that point, mostly hanging out with theatre people, not writers or artists who would have been making zines, but I was still intrigued.  (My sister also bought home this strange handmade book covered in glittery vinyl she made in art class and I was a little obsessed with it's possibilities--and deeply sad that I had forwent art classes in favor of journalism and french. .)   Even in those days, my creative output seemed destined for lit journals and, one day, chaps or full-length books, as the traditional publishing pipeline flows. 

A decade or so later, I was very much into indie publishing when it came to writing--a ripe field from which wicked alice had sprung years earlier as an e-zine, and then the press in 2004. So many interesting things were happening, writing and design-wise from small presses and artists. I was also foraying further and further into visual art and design, and it seemed natural that zines would be a good vehicle for the work I wanted to produce. While I would consider my first artist book project to be 2007's at the hotel andromeda, which was a collab with another artist, my first zines were small edition booklets of visual art.  The bird collages of miscellaneous.  The altered panoramas of landscape/architecture. At the time, my visual and writing projects were mostly still happening separately for the most part.  I made collages and paintings, but my poems were still something separate.  Sometimes, like with the spectacle series & girl show, there were counterparts created afterward (it worked out nicely that I had a ready-made cover when the book was eventually published. The first combined art & text zine I created together must have been shipwrecks of lake michigan and it continued on like that, a little more in tandem with subsequent projects--radio ocularia, ghost landscapes, dreams about houses and bees.  I do on occasion create simple chapbooks that are just writing.  And art zines that are just image, sometimes mixed with found text.

In workshop I always say the lines are blurry--between chapbooks, between zines, between artist books, at least when it comes to my own practice.  that they, along with other things--political pamphlets, indie comics, are all cousins to each other  Chapbooks, I would say are usually just writing, zines a mix of both, while artist books demand a certain fanciness of materials (or a scarecness.)  Things like the Cornell project and lunarium with its box of letters feels like the latter. Or the poet's zodiac with its glittery cover. Other's, like my monthly zine night creations, are more simple and haphazard. Or something like /slash/ with its rougher more photocopied feel.  Lately, I've been creating print versions and electronic versions to make them more widely available. The random tiny editions I create during zine nights are just photocopied in about 25-30 copies and when they're gone, they're gone. 

Most of the time, I feel much more at home among zine culture practitioners than I ever did poets, and it may just be that my DIY ethos has never fit well in a system where such things are frowned upon. Where I have sat on panels arguing about self-publishing that are the exact opposite of zine panels.   Fellow zinesters are welcoming and excited about indie publishing, where many poets are just looking for the "acceptable" routes of work dissemination--academic journals, fancy presses, the things poets have been fighting over since the early 20th century and maybe before which have more to do with "legitimacy" and less with actually cultivating an audience.  Zinesters have to tale the means of production into their own hands by definition, so the results are much more varied and diverse. 

And perhaps it is that seizing I try to convey to the classes the most. The idea of authorship and creating media in spaces and from voices that don't always get heard. I am excited to see what comes of this year's programming once we are back in the physical stay tuned..

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