Saturday, July 09, 2005

Zines, found poetry, and other literature for the people, by the people

Hello everyone!

I'm Katie, and I'm delighted to be taking over the Inquirer's books blog for a couple of weeks. Frank was kind enough to mention that I do a print zine on language called The La-La Theory, so I think I'll take the opportunity to tell you about the third annual Philadelphia Zine Fest, which is taking place next weekend.

Last year's fest was a success, and an absolute blast. Zinesters and other artists came from all over the country to pack themselves into the stuffy Rotunda (remember how hot it was last summer?) and share their work. Zines are handmade, one-of-a-kind, self-published journals on every subject imaginable, often traded for other zines or sold for not much more than $1 a copy. I still have copies of Christoph Meyer's lovely, spooky little story, "The Heart Star," with its linoleum block print cover; "The Glovebox Chronicles," a multiple-collaborator collection of road trip stories; "Suburban Gothic" Issue 3.5, a tiny photocopied account of depression; and "The Joy of Tuna," a totally insane photo/word/recipe collage devoted to the wonderment that is canned tuna fish. The zine movement is often considered an early-90s phenomenon, and indeed, that's when it was in the public eye for a hot 15 minutes. But clearly, here in the 21st century, the lively, delightful spirit of the DIY revolution is alive and well.

The La-La Theory takes its name from the oddball term Danish linguist Otto Jespersen (1860-1943) gave to one of the theories of the origin of language: that it was borne of the human need to express love and poetry. Unlikely, theory-wise, but awfully nice. One issue is called "Mrkgnao!", and it's about the ways different languages express animal sounds. (That weird word is the sound Mr. Bloom's cat makes in Ulysses.) I'll also bring a few copies of Word Math, a collection of found poetry I made for last year's fest. Found poetry is exciting because it takes the DIY idea to an even higher level. Essentially, the idea is to make (well, find, really) poetry from any non-poetic context: street signs, rearranged sentences from a physics textbook, you name it. Here's what poet Tom Hansen said about the creation of found poetry:

"Most found poems begin their lives as passages of expository prose. Their intended purpose is to feed easily digestible information to the reader. Nothing could be less poetic. But suddenly poetry is discovered embedded within the prose. The discoverer is someone alert to the possibilities of irony, absurdity, and other incongruities." ("Letting Language Do: Some Speculations on Finding Found Poems," College English 42, 1979)

In other words, the discoverer—the poet—can be anyone. Like me. And you.

Till soon,


  1. bring on the foundlings. you're not referring to smart-assy leno-like bloopers, right, but writing with spine and some color in its cheeks? why don't you post a few of your own as examples?
    you must find it a lot like your own creative writing, i'm guessing; don't you start with a notion and progressively discover more humor and poignancy as you try to express it?
    and tell the truth: what do you think of jennifer weiner?

  2. Hi Katie,

    Enjoyed reading your post about zines and the Philly Zine Fest, which is going strong in its 3rd year!

    I'm a small press publisher, a zinester, and a proud member of the Underground Literary Alliance. I'll be making the trip from California to attend the Philly zine fest and ULA events the weekend of July 15-17. More importantly, legendary underground writer Jack Saunders is coming up from Florida! He'll read at the ULA events, give a free workshop at the Philly Zine Fest, and discuss his new book. Jack also wrote a zine especially for the zine fest, which he'll have available at our table.

    Hope to see you there!

    Here's a link with full info on the July 15 outing, the big ULA lit-show July 16, 5 to 9 at the Medusa (free to all!), and the zine fest events on the 17th...

    Thanks so much and good luck with this blog!


  3. Hi, cmcdougall. I think making found poetry would be a fine exercise for a creative writing class, come to think of it. It gets you outside of your own head and into the real world. And it is a discovery, you're right. Obviously the raw materials are already there for you, but even beyond that a found poem almost writes itself. Once you start looking at something in a different way than you're used to, your mind opens up to all the layers of meaning.

  4. p.s. Have you ever read Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg? I love that book. Lots of hippie-ish but very practical advice and thoughts on this and other kinds of writing. Ariel Gore talks about it in her beautiful travelogue/memoir, Atlas of the Human Heart.


  5. Hi, Pat. Thanks your post and link. You're right -- it's the third year of the Philly Zine Fest, but only my second year in attendance. I'll fix it on the main blog page.

    Hmm, I've been hearing a lot about this Jack Saunders lately. Frank asked me to check out his reading on Saturday, so I plan to be there. Please tell us about your publishing projects, if you're so inclined. And have a safe cross-country trip!


  6. Thanks Katie! I’m glad we’ll see you at the Medusa on July 16! Jack Saunders, star of the upcoming show, is a truly amazing writer. He’s in year 34 of a 40 year writing saga that has seen him write over 260 high-quality books at an incredible pace. Jack averages a book a month, and posts them daily, as he writes them, on his website. Jack’s had a hard time getting published by mainstream houses because his style is so unique, his body of work is enormous and interwoven, and he refuses to compromise his artistic vision in exchange for publication. Thus, one of the greatest writers of our time remains a champion of the underground until his big break comes---if it ever comes. That’s part of the drama of his saga; a struggle that every writer can relate to.

    As for me (since you’ve asked), I run the monthly LitVision e-zine. My fledgling print operation, LitVision Press, is set to release one book and at least two zine projects in the remainder of this year. The book is Bukowski Never Did This: A Year in the Life of An Underground Writer & His Family, by Jack Saunders. It documents a slice of Jack’s struggle to balance working full-time & raising a family with his passion to create and promote his unstoppable stream of writing. The book also details Jack’s thoughts on his hero, Charles Bukowski, one of the few underground writers who successfully crossed over into the mainstream. More info can be found at my press page:

    Anyway, the overriding lesson I get from Jack, the ULA, and the Do-It-Yourself community is that a person’s got to make his/her own breaks. Writers especially should take a close look at how the NYC publishing world works, and if they see major flaws or inequity, should ask themselves if they really want to play a rigged game? There is an alternative out there, one with an extremely bright future, that mainstream lit hasn‘t offered in many years. We of the ULA (and many other undergrounders & allies) are working to give writers like Jack a fair shot at the recognition they deserve, and in so doing, to make things better for everyone.

    Well, thank you so much for the space! See you in Philly!