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Hands-On Poetry: Self-Publishing, Book Arts, and the Dusie Kollektiv
Over the last few months, a curious parade of poetic artifacts has been arriving regularly in my mailbox: fifty chapbooks written by poets who are members of the Dusie Kollektiv, each produced by another poet in the Kollektiv. This remarkable force of poetic self-determination was started by the poet and editor of Dusie Press, Susana Gardner, and is now in its third year.
At once postmodern and traditional in its ethos and aesthetic, the Kollektiv is organized on simple principles. Each of the fifty poets is randomly assigned someone else’s book to publish. We make 100 copies and mail one to each member of the kollektiv, with twenty for the author and the rest for review copies.
I have to admit, I was nervous about doing this. I hadn’t physically created a book since self-publishing my very first book of poetry in 1982. But I still remembered the thrill of producing that little volume, and the way the poetry seemed somehow more “itself” in a book that I had had a hand in making— as if the poems’ physical body were at once more arbitrary and more full of soul than the commercially-produced equivalent. Each copy carried some of the deeply meaningful pleasure I now get from home-baked bread and hand-knit hats. Combined with the intensity of poetry itself, the effect bordered on sublime.
So I dove in and started making my chapbook, adding my own choices of color, size, shape, paper textures, format, and conception to the truly remarkable variety of chaps that was starting to pour in. Mine was simple to produce in many ways, challenging in others (I let a copy shop do the cutting and stapling, but my daughter and I hand-stamped each volume individually between half a dozen and a couple of dozen times with animal-shaped ink-stamps . . .). As with so many arts, there is nothing like trying book art yourself to appreciate the full complexity and difficulty of what others have done.
Though I am still waiting for my own volume to be finished, participating in the Kollektiv has already been not only fun, but empowering. Not only does the kollektiv remind us that a book is an object we have the power to produce, but it also reminds us that a literary network is a group of writers we have the power to organize. The kollektiv is a powerful alternative model to the often-alienating po-biz world of blurbs, book contest entry fees, impersonal editorial responses, and the rest. As a step towards po-biz self-realization, the equivalent of a rustic retreat, I would recommend the kollektiv model as a po-biz tonic to any aspiring or, for that matter, established poet. Gardner and the Dusie Kollektiv are creating an inspiring new kind of literary reality not only on their own terms, but with their own hands.
Pictures and flash reviews of this year’s Dusie Kollektiv chaps are here: