Reliquary of Debt #poetry #guestblogging #bookreview

Thanks for the review of Reliquary of Debt!

Grab the Lapels

Reliquary of Debt by Wendy Vardaman

published by Lit Fest Press, 2015

I want to thank publisher Jane Carmen for sending Grab the Lapels a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

*Guest review by Kathline Carr

Mapping a course through Vardaman’s Reliquary of Debt, one has the sense of moving backward and forward in time—through layers of years, hungers, cities, states of wonder and tourist queues—her observations accompanied by personal threads weaving the written tapestry of her experiences. We are reminded of the past’s present as a cultural preoccupation, and the present’s past as family tensions punctuate the narrative.

As if to signal the insignificance of order in the travels of our lives, Vardaman begins with a poem entitled “Postscript”: We were driving our children/crazy, but we didn’t/ know it…(15). Painted frescoes stand shoulder to shoulder until they begin to overlap in the mind:…

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Mother’s Day Gif, or Stefan Sagmeister & Me, a Potentially Long Essay Becomes a Quick Read

Mother's Day Gif, or Stefan Sagmeister & Me, a Really Long Essay Becomes a Fast Read

Mother’s Day Gif, or Stefan Sagmeister & Me, a Potentially Long Essay Becomes a Quick Read

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text | texture | textile | tech – conversations on book arts

My interest in graphic design comes from a deep desire to make poetry & words more expressive, accessible & comprehensible to non-poets. As a poet, I have returned & recommited to the written word through design again and again–from illustrations of nursery rhymes and children’s poetry, to poems projected on screens in the classic 1980’s PBS series Voices and Visions, an early example of the video poem, to poetry in subway stations and buses, to projections of poems on walls and screens, to animated poetry and high tech 3-D visualizations like wordCake, to the floating letters of 20th c. Constructivists, to the use of text–word, number, notation, music, code–as texture in collage, and of course, the world of visual poetry, in which word and image come together with drama and purpose.

Software like Indesign and Illustrator has allowed poets interested in these tools to take control of their own design. The print work of Douglas Kearney, Black Automaton and Patter, is one example of the power of innovative graphic design and poetry in the hands of a single original artist. Digital design also makes possible the work of artistic teams like Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse, whose Between Page and Screen “explores the place of books as objects in an era of increasingly screen-based reading,” linking an original letterpress artist book to a website where it can be experienced:

The poems that appear, a series of letters written by two lovers struggling to map the boundaries of their relationship, do not exist on either page or screen, but in the augmented space between them opened up by the reader.

The possibilities of digital-print interactions, overlaps, and references seem endless, and for poets, whose virtually unmarketable work has such a small audience, especially appealing. Bringing together the handmade with innovative tech in software, programming, app design, and computer graphics opens up new directions for individual and collaborative work in word design. Poetry’s capacity to focus intensively on word, metaphor, and detail enriches these worlds, too, as they enrich poetry.


In this series of conversations, hosted at Cowfeather Projects, I speak primarily to Wisconsin and Midwest-based book and letterpress artists about their relation to the handmade, its appeal in our digitally centered culture, the significance in their print work of texture, textiles, and text, and their relation, positive or not, to tech.

sometimes you don’t need a rocket

wordpress run amok – part 1

I work as an editor in the architectural industry… everyone’s got a wordpress site these days, but is it always necessary?

here’s an example from a mom & pop franchise-builder. clearly they they’re hoping to attract younger types to the business.

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 5.16.16 PM      Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 5.16.34 PM


& here are their new franchise owners.

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& here’s a mash-up of this conflicting info on their site.

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which as a designer / user, let alone one of these freshly certified franchise owners, feels more like a jump off a cliff to me than a new horizon. I get the humor they’re going for, but is this really a useful rebranding or too much fuel firing in the wrong kind of engine?

think of it as stock photography + wordpress driving the family rocket. sometimes maybe a bicycle, even a walk to the corner store, would do.

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your website/ your identity

part 3 | the volunteer nonprofit

You can’t just hit the update button without knowing who/what you are.  

That fact will inevitably announce itself during a site redesign.

I became part of the web update team for a writers’ organization when I joined the board last summer. The group has existed for 50 years, but recently struggled with keeping board seats filled and finding a contemporary purpose that resonates with younger people.


The website shown below dates only to 2009 or 2010 and replaced an earlier version with no CSS. The 2009 redo looked fine at the time. Not exciting, but serviceable. Created on an early CMS program that did not get updated, the site quickly became unmanageable. Only one person had access, and posting was difficult to accomplish. Content  frames are set at laptop proportions. The CMS didn’t anticipate changing devices, mobile or big screen,  and no one in the all-volunteer group had been able to update the backend.

Screenshot 2016-02-10 at 12.08.33 PM

Although intended for a small organization with one annual event, the main page template didn’t extend below the fold, causing the site to fracture into nearly a hundred pages, as each update necessitated the creation of (a) new page(s), rather than adding to a previous one. By necessity, the menus resembled grocery lists–some short, some long–to try to accommodate these expanding number of pages and general categories they belonged to. In the end, the volunteer maintaining the site posted most updates via pdf, in order to minimize the difficulties.


WordPress seemed like an obvious solution to these problems, and another new board member had a recently launched personal website, whose designer-developer, a writer like the rest of us, offered to give the nonprofit a break on rates, as long as he didn’t need to sit through multi-person meetings or create content.

We made fast progress on creating goals that responded to the obvious issues: redesigning the site’s information architecture–gluing all the little bits into something recognizable and usable, making the site responsive, and tracking down images that would transfer to WordPress from a program that had ground visual content down to single kilobytes whenever possible.

But fundamental issues remain, right up to the review of the redesigned site we are starting to share with the board. Questions  of the WordPress aesthetic with its full-width photos and footer widgets and sizing of photos on tablets, as well as Wordpress functionality — for example, understanding the drop-down menu and the fact that what drops down are child, not top level elements, and user interface–scrolling as opposed to clicking as not only acceptable but desirable. Where will the menu be located? Why isn’t there a fixed nav-bar? Shouldn’t the sidebar have a different color? What’s all the extra white space for?

And behind all of the questions of what the new site looks like remain deeper, deferred questions about who this organization  wants to become, who it wants to serve, and how it will continue to exist if it doesn’t reach out beyond its roots in the 1960s and a membership that mostly came of age during that decade. 

your website / your identity

part 2 | metaphysical sites

I wrote about how updating my personal website was more complicated than design or coding in the first part of this post. it involved, and continues to involve, wrestling with my creative identity. & by identity, I don’t mean “brand,” I mean something metaphysical. if you want to try to convince me that branding has philosophical layers, by all means. but I think that the inherent directive to make capital from branding, whether that is reputation or cash or both, negates a more fundamental human need to find and/or to make meaning. I’m having a website crisis because my life & artistic center is in flux.

if I were an organization, I’d sit down with my Self and do some strategic planning. go back to my core values and see if they still fit the mission and vice versa. talk to some constituents inside & outside the org to find out what they think of the mission and whether we’re on task or not. whether the mission addresses a real problem or not. whether we’ve experienced mission drift. whether the org remains relevant in a shifting social landscape.

and in fact, I have done this with myself, and it seemed to help, at least for a summer during which I’d spent my creative time & energy seven times over and needed to refocus. but alas, strategic planning your professional/personal life does not, like branding, go deep enough. which means that my search for the right website, a superficial byproduct of a more important unanswered question, continues,  as it should.

have I thought about taking my website down while I figure things out? yes, yes I have. & maybe I will. what purpose does it serve, anyway, beyond keeping a digital record of my writing activity? who is it for other than myself, and why? is my Self enough of an audience? as a poet, I don’t expect to sell work or make money that way or have many readers. & though I have books available, poets sell these, if at all, through personal connections and personal charisma, which is in fairly short supply in the profession. if we could sell things, we wouldn’t be poets in the first place.

if you’re an organization, however, you don’t have the luxury of taking your website down before you put it back up again… no matter how bad it looks, it’s got to stay there until you get something better. and time & money being what they are, you probably don’t want to go through the process of rebuilding your site more often than forced to by either 1 ) changing tech, and/or 2) organizational redefinition.

in the next post, I’ll explore a website redesign I’ve been involved with for the past six months as a board member… the Council for Wisconsin Writers, whose current site looks like this:

Screenshot 2016-02-10 at 12.08.33 PM

but, as I’ve found with my own website, you can’t just hit the update button without knowing who/what you are.


your website/ your identity

a website isn’t just code. it’s not just “brand” either. it’s identity. you have to know who you are & where you are to make it work, whether you’re an organization or an individual. whether it’s diy or you have unlimited funds to hire the best designer-coders in the world.

take three projects I’ve been involved with recently where identity is in flux: my personal website; a nonprofit site for the Council for Wisconsin Writers, where I’m on the board & redesign team; and my press website, Cowfeather.

Part 1 |

my website used to be for one thing and one thing only: me as a poet, aka persuading people to read my poetry, buy a book, go to a reading. when my interests started to shift, my website wasn’t a good fit anymore.

so I took down my many-paged, text-heavy site and started rethinking what I wanted it to look like.

I put up more images – art & design projects from classes and book covers I’d designed over the years on one page. another page for multimedia projects I’d done at various times. a page for poetry books & links, a page for prose – essays and books, and finally, an artist statement to replace the author bio and a long list of organizations I’d been working with… I sat with that for a few months until I realized that it was unfocused, and wasn’t me either. much as I enjoy art, I’m not doing it at the level that I write, and I’m not going to be selling it.

so I took down my many-paged, less text-taxing site and started rethinking what I wanted my website to do. who it was for, and what I wanted a viewer to see in the 30 seconds they might spend there.

my solution for now is a colorful landing page with a section of curated, current projects. I’d like to have stopped there, but added three other pages, because my professional identity still feels fuzzy & bifurcated – writer-editor & emerging designer. but at least I tried in this version to approach these two pages in a consistent way visually. then I added an “about” to pull it together.

it’s still not the a website that fits the usual categories – writer or artist, which may make it hard for visitors to understand. and it’s still not the website I want, mostly because my identity – professional and personal – is in flux.

the next time I change up the site, I swear, it’s going to be one page & everything’s going to sit – or circle or swim or swirl – there  comfortably.

Coming soon…

Part 2 | the council for wisconsin writers

Part 3 | cowfeather press/ cowfeather projects



photoshop collage with scanned materials, including vintage quilt block, embroidery floss, html code, poetry, words, and annotated programs from workshops & art exhibits

wordpress for designers

first day of class – wordpress for designers, or why I am here at my age?

coming back to school after sending three kids off to college started out as something to do to take away the sting but quickly became one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done for myself. it’s up there with four months in Italy after being a stay-at-home, never-travel-anywhere-unrelated-to-family mom for 15 years. just really, surprisingly fun. I recommend it.

I started off slowly last year with a class in basic design, took three more classes in the spring including letterpress, and 18 months later I’m juggling a half-time job as an asst. editor in the architectural glass industry, a half-share in a poetry projects organization, and a full-time load of classes in art, graphic & web design, and programming.