Above: a watercolor sketch cover for Sarah Gzemski’s chapbook of poetry, essay, and photos titled Centralia (Porkbelly Press, 2015). Centralia is a borough in Pennsylvania which rests atop an underground coal fire. It’s been burning since 1962. Roads leading into the are full of cracks and fissures, some of which release smoke from the fire lurking below.
Pen and translucent pan watercolors (plus gouache for the smoke) seemed the ideal media for this cover. Though landscapes aren’t my usual fare, I kept it loose and treated the illo like a sketchbook entry, more feel and impression that photo-real painting. Might have to do more of this. 😀
This is the November offering from Porkbelly Press.
If you’re interested in sampling Sarah’s writing, below is an excerpt of a piece:
Attempt to Stop the Fire 1
They figured they’d dig it out. Get their shovels around the fire, send the men into the caverns, get them to start mining again. They figured the fire wasn’t in a hurry, that it would stay put while they hacked away at the fuel around it. But the fire taunted, always moving ahead of everything they cleared, growling. Machines only made things worse: they pierced the shaft, let in air that fanned the flames, wind a giant bellows in the black-walled tunnel. The team was only allowed to work from 8 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday, as though fire could not run rampant on weekends, holidays, or the middle of the night.
Top left: Pray, Pray, Pray: poems I wrote to Prince in the middle of the night (Porkbelly Press, 2015) by E. Kristin Anderson. Based on a design I sent her for a bookmark to hand out at AWP, the cover’s done from a drawing inspired by a photograph of a certain musician with very bedroom-y eyes. Though these poems are not about Prince, they’re confessionals written to him, and celebrate some of the imagery present in his songs. The art itself was simple, clean, and produced in purple.
Pray, Pray, Pray is an epistolary anthem penned to, and inspired by, Prince. These middle-of-the-night stanzas are intimate, vulnerable and fierce—”your guitar runs straight through me; I worry that I am a specter,” and “America is violent. And I am a patriot, stomping the ground every day.” These pages are at once love letter, battle cry, and a question, a poem, a song. Follow these lines through and tell us “which lines are critical? If I close this box, will you open it and see something in that empty air?”
Excerpt from “How an Echo Feels:”
Your new voice can almost reconcile the temperature divide—
how my body sweats and outside cool breeze carries every whim
away. My mind is an animal, American like you, down to the bone.
What is more American than art for the sake of art? More human
than love for the sake of love? Dive into the words—here lies
fashion, here lies grace. New voices bubble to the top and shout:
Here we are. Here we have always been.
Suck in the air. This is where we live, where we twist.
Raise me up. Put your hand on my shoulder and say,
Yes. Put your hand on my back and push.
Top right: The Peace of Wild Things (Porkbelly Press, 2015) by Ariana D. Den Bleyker. This cover is a collaboration between me and Jonathan Rountree, my partner in so many crimes. Pen, watercolor, ink, and paper.
There’s a primal peel and pull to this chap, a hungry animal ripping strips of reluctant flesh from its meal. It might read like a loss to some, burying, re-burying, and unearthing again, but in this litany of exposed bone and steaming viscera, there’s a resonant note of hopefulness, a fire kindling finally, finally, on a cold night deep in the wood, wolves huffing in the brush. It feels, for all the violence and mourning, like a recovery. Even in the frenzy of a carcass stripped, someone is fed.
an excerpt from a later in the collection, “The Heart Expands in Black Soil:”
I dreamed of hunting wild boars, burying
two beating hearts. You called out, pointed
toward the sky. We stretched substance
into shadow, imagined ourselves yoked,
hooves torn & bloody, knowing we used
to say too much until it wasn’t enough.
We listened intently, heard the hearts
beat together, rip apart in silence. It was
more than quiet & wrong to call it peaceful.
I’ll make my own bones of this,
Bottom: How to Leave a Farmhouse (Porkbelly Press, 2015) by Beth McDermott. A photograph taken from a moving car while a storm was rolling in. This is one of the few photographs I’ve used for a cover, but it seemed to fit the nostalgic architectural-historical approach to surveying a plot of land.
How to Leave a Farmhouse engages the landscape, flora, and the manmade, to weave a multi-part narrative of place. Structures are left behind to become a part of the historical and visual character of this land—these poems draw from documents and paintings, then imagine something deeper, crafting something that’s a little bit ekphrasis, a little bit record, and something that’s almost the ghost story of a farmhouse. “What’s intact, you’ve learned, / is the upside of ruinous. What’s ruinous is documented / before it disappears. What disappears—this is what it means / to go out with guns blazing as someone else is taking / the bull by the horns…”
An excerpt from “The Mushroom Farmer:”
A new housing development threatens to budge [her] another time, for the last time.
-Goodness Greeness “Farm Spotlight”
I read about her digging
her heels in
soil that tended to
on the plow. The feature
story is her chance
even though nothing
will save her
for starter spawn.
Yet her perspective is so
the public can’t
that she uses
manure, which stems
Here she is
among the fruiting
her lamp over racks
Their spores require
a room like a cave
with the ground