Judging a Book by Its Cover: Pavement Saw Press
Small, indie poetry presses like the Midwest’s Pavement Saw don’t have access to the types of financial resources available to big publishing houses. There are no teams of well-paid thinkers who gather to conceptualize the covers for chapbooks and collections, no exorbitant budgetary allocations dedicated to their design. What they do have, however, is ready access to the kind of raw creativity that forced their existence in the first place, and this rare commodity is in some ways their greatest source of wealth.
Without facing the strictures placed upon more elaborate printing concerns, these presses have the freedom to present books that boast covers that are decidedly anti-commercial, trend-free, non-formulaic and fresh. This collection of titles from Pavement Saw represents some of indie publishing’s most brilliant cover gems.
The design for the cover of And Shadow Remained, Ken Waldman’s fourth full-length poetry collection, thoughtfully extends beyond the book’s façade to continue on its back, with blurbs and author information slanted in the same fashion as the front’s titular presentation. The success of this cover is in both its simplicity and its subtle depth: the mysterious shadow of a figure without a visible form to cast it is ghostly and stirring, and the text treatment on the book’s backside also continues this shadowy theme. A well chosen cloak for Waldman’s likewise enigmatic work, this cover expresses the tone that saturates the poems, which bear titles like “Shadow Man,” “Phantom Pain,” and “Sleepwalker.”
A smell, a sound, or a tactile experience can easily uproot memories that seemed to have been long buried in the recesses of our gray matter. The senses are conjured by Lee’s cover treatment for Uncontainable Noise: the title in itself summons aural distress, the billowy stream of smoke brings forth charred olfactory memories, and our visual instincts are aroused by the process of interpreting these multiple elements of sensual appeal. So inextricably linked with emotion, sensual memories are suitably evoked by this cover of Davenport’s collection, which tends to experiences of irrepressible responses, hesitant realizations, and tentative surrender. Take it from Davenport:
you can’t change the naked fact: that you’re waiting
for something you can’t name or find in hips alone.
Judging by its cover, something is teetering on the brink of eruption or explosion; judging by the pages, those explosive “somethings” are Davenport’s words.
A playful amalgam of images is assembled for this cover of Rodney Koeneke’s Rouge State; from the collection’s play-on-words title to the poetry within, the book is steeped in a similar assemblage of animated and spirited wordsmithery. A recumbent woman smokes a cigar as a horse bucks in her background, and a kanji character is poised in the position that the sun might take in a conventional landscape scene. A quasi-humorous fusion of unlikely bedfellows, these cover elements reflect expertly the stylistic musings of Koeneke’s work. For example, the first stanza of #13:
I owed my happiness then to rhinoplasty,
a short run of articles called Sex Secrets of the
Ancient Egyptians and a kind of crafty pimping
of my mom, teaching latch hook and decoupage
to the embassy brats, who in turn lent good ears to
her litany of soft-serve ‘facts,’
like hip-hop came from Romania and AIDS
was a whacked hacker’s plot.
Ignore the cryptic blurbings of Michael Gizzi and K. Silem Mohammed on the book’s back jacket and experience this one for yourself. Melding images of natural timelessness with appearances from contemporary culture, Koeneke’s collection is easily enjoyed by the well-seasoned bard and poetic neophyte alike.
Lance King’s cover design -- with its acidic coloring and heavily textured and meandering background forms -- speaks of organic chemistry and firing neurons. At the same time, words like “slash-and-burn” seem appropriate here, and we can interpret the images as representing a psychedelic landscape of stilted flora and barren soil. Chicagoan Garin Cycholl’s poems paint an odd landscape as well, with works that Judith Vollmer describes as “austere but vivid… where roadmaps are alive; where ditches give birth to miniscule evolutions of the organic life force…” You’d never find a cover this ballsy on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, and it’s this type of laudable creativity that sets indie presses apart and situates them in such an important niche of the literary market.
The herd of plastic horses on the cover of Julie Otten’s Milk Chip Monday look as though they’re commiserating about the best direction to pursue in making their escape. You can easily imagine a little girl running a pink plastic mini-brush through their silky manes and tails, then leaving them to lie neglected until some later date. Fitting, then, since Otten herself has described the collection as representing a “long good-bye to her coveted adolescence, which she has finally agreed to relinquish” (Chicago Postmodern Poetry).
Dark and ethereal, Jorge Rojas’ painting “El Teatro” is the cover image for Arigo’s Lit Interim. The picture-in-picture format of this cover commiserates well with the square-shaped size of the book, thoughtfully chosen to accommodate the variety of print formats within. The painting itself is a two-dimensional cabinet of curiosities, with a collection of images, each sequestered within its own boxed-in space; still, they all exist harmoniously within their frame and comprise an interesting parallel world for introducing Arigo’s world of words.
For more information, go to www.pavementsaw.org, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org