I’ve wanted to move away from essays as a final assignment, and the content of my major poetry course felt perfect for… bookmaking! Below is the assignment I distributed today, and I’m hoping (really, believing) that the students will rise to and above the challenge. Here’s the assignment…
Final Project: Option A
Bookmaking: The Mini-Edition
As English majors and people deeply interested in literature, you undoubtedly are accustomed to writing the dreaded “essay,” over and over again. And while writing itself is a magical form of making and creation, certainly there are other ways we can conjure “making” as a vehicle for thought, investigation, and criticism. Thus…
There will be books!
Yes, we will make books! While you’ve spent countless hours reading, studying, highlighting, discussing, and writing about these curious objects (indeed, one of mankind’s most enduring and successful technologies), how many of you have made one? Books are not simply “things”; they are a form of crafted rhetorical expression that I am asking you to tap.
Your basic task: Create a book, or small series of easier “fold books,” that present the work of your favorite poet this semester. Put another way, you are making a mini-edition of one poet’s work that should include/present/remix/ad infinitum a minimum of 5 poems. That requirement aside, you can present these poems in any way you wish—the form of the book(s) will dictate that; this replicates the major poetic lesson of the semester—form is content. I wish I could give you examples of books here, but I cannot; this is a new adventure for all of us. All I can say is that I value your creativity and imagination above all else—if you show me and your classmates that you are thinking through your creations, then you cannot go wrong.
The Unessay Component: I am borrowing the term “unessay” from Dr. Ryan Cordell, who has himself remixed the term from influences of his own. In brief, this is where you use the book, either in its form, by inserting written commentary, a separate analysis, etc, to comment on the poet’s work you’ve selected for this edition.
- Choose your own thesis
- Think through and argue that thesis in any way you choose
- Final evaluation is based entirely on how creative and convincing the final product is
Examples: I will bring two books into class that are filled with examples of handmade books, from very easy fold books to more complex bound and/stitched books. The first book is Making Handmade Books by Alisa Golden (I’ve been using this book quite a bit, and it’s wonderful), and the second is Books Without Paste or Glue by Keith A. Smith. I choose these books because their examples tend to be artistic and represent the book arts. Still, there is no reason why you could not find an example of your own, or even produce a digital edition that fully embraced the requirements of this assignment. Just for caution’s sake, I’d like to approve anything not taken from the books listed above.
Expense: Depending on the project you choose, there could be more expense than just paper, though certainly nothing that is too prohibitive (some board, thread, glue, etc). With that in mind, I will allow for groups of up to 3 people if the chosen project will involve sharing some expense and dividing up a significant amount of labor.
Expertise: I will see about having Stephanie Carpenter come to class for a visit/mini-workshop/advising session. She is a curator at the Hamilton Woodtype Museum and a creative genius, especially in bookmaking.
Again, Requirements: One bound book of any style. However, if you are doing some simpler “fold” books, then you must do a series of five of these.
Why This Project? As the introduction to this assignment says, I think we spend more than enough time analyzing text through that single container known as the essay. We can also think with our hands. We can think through problems or a thesis as we build something. I don’t see a “regular essay” as being more easy or difficult than this—it’s different. And since you are likely not used to this type of project, it will be challenging and frustrating at times. You are students and scholars. You are made for such challenges.