Last weekend was the third annual Buffalo Small Press Book Fair, which brings together poets, artists and bookmakers from the East Coast, New England, the Great Lakes, the Midwest, and Canada. It’s a regional event, I suppose, over a large region. The first night there was a marathon poetry reading, and Saturday vendors set up shop at the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum and bought, sold and traded poetry.
Unlike the majority of the AWP Book Fair, the Buffalo Small Press Book Fair focuses on craft–the book as handmade object. So there is a lot of beautiful stuff to see– screenprint, letterpress, sewn binding, etching, gocco, and many types of binding. The visual poem has a certain privilege here, since the visual aspect of bookmaking is privileged. (All of this is due to organizer Chris Fritton‘s aesthetic.)
One of the things that caught my eye this year was the poetry of Michael Sikkema. According to his new Blazevox title, Futuring, Sikkema “was born and raised in rural Northern Michigan” and has been through the Bay Area and Buffalo poetry communities, resulting in an individual style that isn’t particular to any scene. There’s Niedecker, Eigner and Grenier in here, to be sure, and I would like to think there’s a particular Buffalo influence, but all of that is already more than “local.”
I should mention that although Sikkema’s work is new to me, and might be new to you, it’s not new to other people: Gina Myers posted this blog entry about Futuring months ago, and she published his chapbook CODE OVER CODE in 2006 with Lame House Press (review).
Futuring probably wouldn’t have caught my eye from its place within the vast and uneven Blazevox library if I had not been at the marathon Small Press reading on Friday. This reading lasted for over five hours and most readers had 5-minute slots. Audience members were a buzzing beehive of greetings, arrivals, goodbyes, departures, and other such human noise, so it was hard to give any reader the attention he or she deserved. In such a setting, specialness stands out– Outside Voices author Ric Royer, for example, gave an incredible performance. Sikkema’s performance caught my attention and drove me to investigate his work further–exactly what a poetry reading is supposed to do (but rarely does, at least for me). At the podium, he drew tiny books from his breast pocket and read from them. Of course, I was immediately enchanted by the size of the books. I borrowed them from him after the reading and liked the content of many of them. They are 1″x3″, with about six handwritten pages inside, staple-bound with blank construction paper covers. Asking him about them, I learned that they are “details”; he mentioned Grenier’s smaller works.
(Here I would like to mention, in passing, the Eigner-Grenier microtradition. Eigner not as a producer of small books, which he wasn’t, but the microcosm of influence and poet-love between just those two men. I feel myself as a follower treading in that very thin trail of a tradition. Although both Eigner and Grenier also have other influences, and I have other influences, the Eigner-Grenier bond has its own weight.)
Reading Futuring, which like Organic Furniture Cellar uses the page space openly, my favorite poems are “The Surfaces” and the series of “Calendars for Hazel.” I have less fun with the poems that sit on the page in more conventional way, but they’re easier to reproduce here, so I will use a couple of them to give you a sense of the language:
the fossil record
fills in with static
your “rain leaves mirrors
in the earth” is made of time
all the apples footsteps
the stranger we can become
the better and sooner you say
with your eyes see this
all into YES
To hear Sikkema read, go to Sugar City on April 9 (7-10p, endocrinology reading series) or Rust Belt on April 23 for the Futuring release.
[P.S. This isn't a review. I don't review books; I don't know how to review books. I point to things I like. I like this. Thumbs-up.]