Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Little Inserts Bringing Smiles

Steven Fama's recent post about Greying Ghost Press in Salem, Mass., and the various items that were included with the book he ordered got me curious. I decided to check this publisher out and ended up ordering a booklet from them--one of the few in the catalogue that hasn't yet sold out--titled "Walden Book" by Allen Bramhall.  It cost a mere $3 (including shipping to Canada) and arrived promptly.

Yes, it's true, just as Steven Fama says, "You buy a book, any book, and you get the book and what amounts to a goofy treasure-stack of flotsam and jetsam (plus free pamphlets) that brings back the fun of (warning: boy and young kid allusions dead-ahead) opening a pack of baseball cards and seeing which players you got, plus the silly fun of the prize in the CrackerJack box."

I'm a sucker for the CrackerJack box experience. Who can resist the invitation to ... have fun?!   Here's what I pulled out from the envelope sent from Greying Ghost Press when it arrived last Friday:

"Walden Book", by Allan Bramhall on unnumbered pages, 'printed and bound in an edition of 75 by Carl Annarummo in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. The covers are from an old coastal map found in a recycling bin.'  My copy is #10.

It's a booklet of 18 prose poems about Walden Pond in Concord, Mass.  I know this pond, have walked those woods, swum in those waters, felt both the nearness and absence of Thoreau there. Words, images, things touched on in the poems clearly resonated.

~ "I cannot believe any catastrophe could be as damp as this pond" (from "Monstrous Walden")

~ "I drank of the water and it tasted of Mexico. Henry hated that war, the standard installations. Walden's formulation left me instilled with a gift.   if you live in the deep cold, and prance along wooded margin, the cautious countryside continues.   life force holds an ace up the certifiable sleeve. this is mere red wine of a saturday eve ....." (from "Political Pond Power")

~ "any day could hold something. the shapely articulation never fades.  splitting light spreads a dramatic      tone poem for all." (from "Walden Will Remain")

~ "the Conquistadors aren't done, envy is a perfect implosion. something is over there, across the way.   just another monster, perhaps, but highly intriguing. maybe we should have words." (from "Stress Test").

~ "this pond makes sense, said that person, laying by the water. I must regulate my functions within this framework, agreed another.   next to and listening.    now talk is cheap.   Walden Pond has this thing, it puts position on the map.   the map fills with specified colours, just for the nexis of that.  imagine!   I love your pond, Henry, someone murmurs.   we are heartened, came an agreeable noise from someone else.  everyone is someone, listen.   the earth seems something of a puddle right now.   it's a political thing, announced whoever, whenever.   the winds that swirl the pretty eddies has a thoughtful virtue.  the sensible pond cluthces time in all transformations.  choice articles clear the eyes, the view perfects.  someone smile and take my picture, pleads a tourist, visiting from a place.   taxonomy relaxes the boundaries, and everyone dies to learn more. these racing cars (Route 2) enforce the latest. mind where you roam, percipient one. endless delivery is a love of place. (from "Map This").

I find myself coming back to certain phrases, certain images. ("Thoreau's ghost makes a rare appearance everyday.   smile when you see that he has been laughing inwardly.   you can throw a rock on his memorial cairn, or screw it, invent a new tree. oh the passing train feels a sadness ..." etc.)  I've taken that sad train to Walden; it often carries relatives to visit inmates at the Northeastern Correctional Center.  Can sadness reside in the seats of a train?  In the track on which it rumbles forward? 

Here's what else was in the package from Greying Ghost:

A Triptych of Poems by Nate Pritt
Three Poems by Gregory Sherl

A playing or trading card. The back of the card says "Whitman".
He looks too neat to be a real cowboy--his shirt looks shiny
and ironed, not a smudge or scuff mark on his perfectly
creased leather pants, not a hair out of place. 

Three 50-word stories, as  part of the Stamp Stories Project
at  Mudluscious Press, by Teresse Svoboda, Zachary 
Schomburg, and Norman Lock.   (Click to enlarge)

Page from a fashion magazine.

 And on the reverse side:

Script beneath the photo:

"We asked Mr. Sahl why he always wears button-down-collar shirts and no tie. "I'm a button-down type," he replied.

"It's an anthropomorphic determination. And I sometimes wear a tie--say, if I'm taking a gal out to dinner. I don't believe in wars over minor issues." Mr. Sahl shown here in his deep-tone Mountain Grape and Piedmont Blue sweater with vertical Grape accents, a bulky knit wool pullover Italian import.

A postcard of Government House in Toronto.

A Sears Roebuck catalogue page of  pocket watches (90 cents
for one in a solid silver case); a glossy page titled "Subscribers",
with various coats of arms and symbols, flags and swords 
(crossed), including the seal of the city of Boston founded in 1630; 
and page 216 of a Tarzan novel. (Click to enlarge)

Mixed Pickles:  

~ ~ A postcard in Hebrew.  Inscribed on the back in blue ink:  "Happy New Year Barbara, from your mother, Jan 1, 1985"

~ ~ A page from a HULK comic book where a military figure warns Hulk that it's his last chance, "Those planes are carrying bombs with nuclear warheads! Give yourself up or we'll blast that cave off the face of the map!"

 ~ ~ An ad page from the back of a nameless magazine urging you, among other things, to "Go globe-trotting at home with a custom-built, all-wave Scott Fifteen short-wave radio console ("Hear, in the quiet comfort of your own home, Spanish tangos, German symphonies, Italian opera, London dance bands, or the wild laugh of the Australian Kookaburra ... direct from their homelands."); sail to Europe via Red Starlines (one way to Antwerp, $117.50); take a summer tour of Ceylon via India State Railways for $18 a day.

~ ~ A page from a comicbook in which an apparition named "Trevor", bearing a remarkable resemblance to  Clark Gable (except his mustache is twirly and pointed, while Clark's, if I remember correctly, was thinner and more tapered), appears to a young woman awakening from sleep.  "You know me, don't you, Lucille?" his voice bubble croons ominously.   "Yes," her voice bubble replies, "but ... you didn't die, DID you?"   In the next frame she asks herself, as he slobbers her with smooches,  "Why am I accepting his kisses... I hate him... and he TERRIFIES me!"   So--Hollywood, ha ha.  In the last frame, she marches zombie-like after him, declaring her obedience to his every command.  I do not know how this turns out, as Greying Ghost has included only this one page.  I seriously doubt the author of this little story was a woman.  (Lucille is blond and beautiful, almost voluptuous, in her form-revealing pink nightie. The cartoon man's dream girl.)

~ ~ A second, different cartoon page where a mysterious hooded figure warns:  "My Lords, I come to you with evil news.  The time of the prophecy of chaos is at hand" (in a kingdom called Crystalilim with no king, where twin princes are vying for the throne). 

What a little treasure trove of stories and poems that could be created from these curious cuttings!! And all of this -- for a mere $3.00.   Thank you, Greying Ghost.  I now know how to write Happy New Year in Hebrew;  I got introduced to three new poets and three writers of mini-stories limited to 50 words; and  I learned that Boston was founded in 1630.  (I knew that before, but forgot the last two digits.)

Things that got my attention in the clippings:

~  That when these magazine ads were published, zip codes did not exist, and you could take a Mediterranean cruise for TWO WHOLE MONTHS, hitting 22 ports of call for a little over $300.

~ That two of these randomly selected items used virtually identical language in sending a message intended to intimidate:  an ad trying to get you to buy a certain brand of dog biscuit featuring a growling  pit bull quoted as saying, "I mean BUSINESS!!", followed by the kinder approach:  "We dogs are easy to please... just give us the right food ..."  Implied, of course, is:  "and if you don't--well, you just better watch out.  Look at the picture.  Look at my growly face.  Look at my sharp teeth.  Look at my words.  'I mean BUSINESS.'"   And in the comic book, a military type shaking his fist, screams at his comrades:  "Show him we mean BUSINESS!!" (as a canon is pointed at Hulk's head).

Marketing messages intended to subconsciously bully customers into buying a product; uniformed gun-pointers proclaiming solidarity in the business of killing--in this case, a large, green person who has an uncontrollable anger management problem.  It just seemed odd, the repetition of that particular phrase, about "meaning business".  Nowadays we don't say that that much anymore; we shorten it and simply say:  "I MEAN it", emphasizing our resolve to turn nastier and carry the threat one step further if what's requested isn't done.  Less business, more meaning--a good thing, one would think.  But in context, things haven't evolved all that much, it seems to me:  it's simply continued being business-as-usual, conducted by meanies. 

Enough of bully talk.  What drew an immediate smile was that "Slim" the perfect cowboy reminded me of my first remembered love.  As a child I once heard an old recording of  Gene Autry singing a Christmas song and told my mother I loved him and was going to marry him.  I must have been 7 or 8 at the time.  She reminded me of my age, suggesting that this was one dream that couldn't possibly come true for me.  I didn't like that answer and  told her:  "I'll wait."  By the time I next remembered my childish infatuation, Gene Autry was, of course, long deceased.  But it wasn't his cowboyness I loved, or even his face.  It was his voice.  Once, some years ago, someone somewhere, on TV or something, played that particular song during the holidays and the people around me laughed at how corny and old fashioned it sounded, but I got goosebumps hearing it. It was like an old love, visiting once again, and everything disappeared: the room, the people, the TV.  All that remained was Gene Autry and the child-me, together again, like I once dreamed.  My little secret.  I never let on, then or since, that I was once in love with, of all people, Gene Autry.

Random clippings, a cowboy card, inserted randomly, in a packet housing a book, a key to unlock past images, bringing back a time where waiting and hoping, for what couldn't ever ever be, was willingly embraced, because of love.  Associations.....

I like the idea of showcasing other poets' work by including them as little bonus gifts when one orders a book; of small press publishers working in concert to promote new poets and writers by including samples with book orders; and in Greying Ghost's case, injecting the fun of anticipation and surprise into discovering the funky, interesting and/or nostalgic clippings chosen for each package mailed out.  They increase knowledge, bring back memories, and (for me at least) provide a wealth of material for future stories and poems.

Thank you Steven Fama for the link.  And thank you Greying Ghost for a delightful mid-afternoon break from the monotony of database work, to go revisit, if only mentally, a beloved pond down Massachusetts way, meet some other poets, and see what little surprises came in the envelope from Salem.  In the end it's not the clippings, or the momentary fun, but the words that remain.  The words. 

Some words not only the writer but readers themselves might utter.  

"I love your pond, Henry."

"everyone is someone.  listen."

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