Author: Su Zi

Su Zi is a poet, writer, artist, and editor of the artist-book poetry chapbook series Red Mare.
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A black and white depiction of horses running amidst dust, as imagined in Jess Bowers's "Horse Show" (2024). [Featured image via SorcerySoap HocusPocus for Pixabay.]

Standing Horses: Review of “Horse Show” by Jess Bowers

We have forgotten the horse, and in doing so, are erasing our own history: the collaboration between horse and human extends into prehistory, and the effect of horses upon human civilization now extends into the width of our roads, our vehicles, and everything we have built that is predicated on that measurement—in truth, the width of a hitched team, the width of two horses yoked together. It is at our peril that we forget the horse, that we forget what we owe them for our civilization; any document of human history involves movement across land and the most formidable masses of moving humans were collaborating with horses. It’s not just us, although humancentric views are internalized as such.

The equestrian world, of humans and horses together, exists almost as a parallel reality to that which we know prosaically as modern society. Horses are large and require room to move about, they require land which is being erased by endless human rapaciousness, they are fragile and the hard corners of human habitation often are their undoing. Caring for a horse involves the muscles of your body and getting them their dinner before you get yours; it involves insect bites, dirt, feces, and a rudimentary skill as a medic. Horse habitat also involves complex natural ecosystems, and in many places has become the last retreat for too many species of wildlife. […]

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A stylized photo of Bob MacKenzie, author of "The Miriam Conspiracy" (2023), originally published under the title "Another Eternity".

Renewing Canon: On Bob MacKenzie’s “The Miriam Conspiracy”

The experienced reader encounters a work with a certain awareness of literary history, of written genres; in some cases, it might be that an experienced reader will avoid certain genres as having less personal resonance, of being unsatisfying to read, perhaps because of the superficiality of the text—a situation that can both attract or repel a reader because the work is “brain candy”. For those readers who enjoy a more demanding reading experience, there are literary works; and while there is an established, historical canon of such literary works, new additions being made to that canon are subjected to as laborious a process as that of the canon of sainthood. The experienced reader may or may not defer to the institutionalization of written works as being thus canonized, but there are those experienced readers who find delight in discovering works worthy of literary consideration that may be otherwise unknown. In this latter case, of undiscovered country, readers are invited to tour a novel by Bob MacKenzie originally called Another Eternity, but which is being re-released under the title The Miriam Conspiracy.

An investigation into the physical entity of this book reveals a number of interesting aspects: inclusion of color plates, font changes, use of symbols in the text itself that concur with the symbols referenced in the narrative and used to separate sections within chapters. The book has a visual vibrancy, despite being a soft cover trade sized volume. The older edition (with copyright 1982 and 2012 by Dark Matter Press, Canada), also displays award stickers from Readers Favorites as a kind of promise to the potential reader choosing a book by its cover. Additionally, the author information page tells us of a full life spent in the arts, of awards and rare editions; the author photo itself is the opposite of the glamor shot so prosaic now, as it mostly shows the beard of the author at a podium, apparently in performance—this is no neophyte effort, and a discerning reader will enter the text with perhaps a bit of a gourmand sensation, with an anticipation of encountering a savory read. […]

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The cover for Moira J. Saucer's poetry collection, "Wiregrass", which features a hand-made cover with a physically decorated yellow flower.

Beautiful Books: On Moira J. Saucer’s “Wiregrass” (Ethel Zine)

Big box bookstores rarely carry small press books, and although some independent bookstores might shelve small press publications, they do not usually offer handmade books. There are also artist-made books, most often a single volume that can be a stunning example of what a book can be: a sublime experience of combined fibers. Books as an art form have been a genre most often seen in either craft shows or esteemed special collections, and can vary from exquisite blank journals to fragile historical treasures. It is not often enough that the ordinary bibliophile will curate handmade books into their collection, even if that personal library includes small press volumes.

Yet in Ethel, we have a small press that has consistently produced an impressive catalogue of handmade books. In addition to side sewn bindings that speak to a serious home sewing machine, each cover features collage and sewn elements—obvious work by hand yet done in the sequence of an edition. A recent release from Ethel is Wiregrass by Moira J. Saucer, which is an apparition in yellow, a textual and tactile experience that begins with holding the yet unopened book. The cover image itself has hand painted elements—a leaf, a flower (done is a yellow that is akin enough to the cover’s yellow to give the impression of depth of perception)—and then outlined with some lines sewn onto the cover. Our consideration of the artist-editor painting, then sewing a sequence of covers must pause at this achievement alone; of the hundreds of small presses whose editors consider a manuscript by the effort and reward model of production, Ethel’s commitment to the manuscript includes this level of commitment: handcraft is hours upon hours upon hours. […]

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Photos of Philip Whalen at different points in his life

Philip Whalen and Small Presses

Ever since publishing became a chip in global empires, small press publishing has been the true voice of the arts. In the small press world itself, there is both legacy and current conditions; given the troubled times of current conditions, perhaps a look at legacy is due. A gift of small press books is a large literary gift, for these are elusive works through time and each is a testimony. Small press books are more apt to be aware of book art legacy itself, and the occasion of one thoughtfully done ought to have some ceremony.

Circumstance thus directs us to a four inch by seven-inch book presented with a card stock cover folded over ten pages center stapled called The Unidentified Accomplice or, The Transmissions of C.W. Moss (Coyote). A glance at the book’s text reveals individually calligraphed paragraphs per page in what seems visually to be a single poem. The single date is 2006 and is listed “Of The Estate”. A book published by an estate is a direct statement to the legacy of the artist, it is additional evidence; in this case, this single folio is a testament to the literary legacy of Philip Whalen. […]