I have always been partial to handmade things. At Camp Betty Hastings in 1969, when I was twelve, my favorite part of the day was doing arts and crafts in the afternoon. How many lanyards and coin purses could a child make in one summer!
There was always something sacred to me about taking the time to curve my body over an idea or a table of materials and turning whatever was there into something beautiful or functional or both. I became a poet partly out of this desire. I watched so many people in my family and community live lives that included proud work done by hand, MaBea’s quilts and fig preserves or Uncle Sonny’s Christmas lemonade. I wanted to be known for making something with my hands. Why not a poem?
Twenty years ago with the help of Opal Baker, Kelly Norman Ellis, and Joan Brannon, I made two thousand tiny rice bags by hand with a Singer sewing machine, that were given away with the purchase of my second book RICE. The bags were cut out of canvas by my hands, lovingly stuffed with brown and white long grain rice, and sewn together by sewing machine. Throughout my life I have leaned into the idea of offering, for free or for sale, something made partly or all by hand to any one purchasing one of my books. I don’t know why I have done this. It’s a mystery to me.
I’ve dreamed about a book project like this for a long long time. The lines of words crafted in these three books were done by hand. The books were made by machine. But the boxes that hold the handmade words were handmade by a new generation book conservationist, Alex Brooks of Lexington, KY. I have a thing for book boxes. I love when books and other things have a keeping place. Alex’s boxes are stunning works of art.
I never had the contacts or resources to proceed with a project like this newest one. We’ve been working for over a year to plan exactly how to print and present to you a beautiful, hardback, limited edition set of books in a handmade box of their own. I imagined something that was unflinching in beauty and power, something that would last a long long time if taken care of. I aim my poetry writing into that hemisphere. I wanted this poetry book project to reach into that good air as well. Even though expensive to produce, and to purchase, I believe poetry deserves this kind of off the beaten path splurge of project from time to time. I hope you know we know these are tough financial times for many and we have not moved forward without that truth. I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to do something like this again but we are doing this now in hopes that many may benefit.
Marianne Jankowski designed the beautiful book covers that have my mom, my 4th great grandmother, and me, on the covers. Thank you, Marianne and Northwestern University Press. Vaughan Fielder, also of Lexington, Kentucky, founder of The Field Office, a home house, a glorious barn, a sacred dwelling, an un-sanctimonious poet sanctuary, full with some of the most generous and heart-rendering poets of our day. Vaughan has been my official representative on the reading circuit for the last three years, and she put her artistic and gracious touch on every angle of the design and distribution of this project. Thank you, Vaughan! Vaughan’s brother, Graham, a young filmmaker shot the video of Alex in his bookmaking workshop. Thank you, Graham!!!
I hope you take a minute to see how all this magic has come together!
There are only 240 boxes and I wish we could give them away like the bags of rice of 1994 but there are too many working hands involved that must be paid for their beautiful hard work! Some years we give things away, other years we can’t. After clearing our bills for this project we are planning to use some of the money made to support several community projects that I am passionate about, in Kentucky and South Carolina, and other ports of call, projects that have everything to do with radical unflinching young people or radical unflinching writing, projects that have to do with my continued support of mother earth and people who bet it all on telling the truth.
We are now ready to send these one of a kind boxes out into the world to you—one by beautiful one.
Gratefully, I bow.
Find the Sweet Box of Words here >
Read more Notes on Migration >