Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Paper Darts

T’was one of those dry, clear, cloudless evenings when you know you have to get out. I had ALREADY made some curried carrot soup and had eaten some, too, so I headed downtown and beyond. It occurred to me at the last minute, poised at the light at Highway 55 near the Farmers Market, to duck up onto the freeway entrance rather than following Lyndale through colorful but endless traffic. Brilliant!

I was headed to a seminar of sorts at Paper Darts, an institution of vague dimensions but considerable renown among the younger set, currently housed in a “pop-up” location at 35th and Nicollet.  The evening’s theme was The Secret Sauce of Book Marketing. A panel of poets, writers, and publicists from local publishing firms would discuss the merits of book trailers, Twitter, radio, word-of-mouth, and other, presumably more novel, means of getting the word out about a tremendous book that no one had heard of. (It’s become a lot easier to get a book into print these days, but far more difficult to get anyone to notice.)

The event had been advertised to begin at 6:30, but in fact it started at 7. This gave me an opportunity to chat with a young author named Taylor who’s self-published a book about how gender works in various languages. He was sitting at a table outside the store-front, biding his time. He might even have been writing on  a Big Chief pad with a pencil. Though he didn’t go into specifics, I got the impression the illustrations in his book were a little risqué.

While the evening was revving up, I also got a chance to chat with one of the co-founders of Paper Darts itself, Mehgan Murphy. She explained what the firm was all about and went to great lengths to show me a lovely book Paper Darts had published recently, Get In If You Want to Live, by John Jodzio, with quirky, lavish graphics from all over the world.

“Where did you have it printed?” I asked.

“Shapco,” she replied.

“Oh, sure, down by the stadium.”

 I didn’t want to bore Mehgan with the news that I’ve been publishing a quarterly, hand-made Zine for the last twenty years, sans graphics, though she was so good-natured I’m sure she would have taken an interest. I was impressed with the boundless energy to be seen in the publications on display and the ubiquitous computer screens emitting a steady stream of cartoon graphic designs, many of them done by Mehgan herself, in all likelihood.

Before the discussion got going, Courtney Algeo, editorial director of the Paper Darts enterprise, announced with glee that a new issue of the magazine was now available—each copy lovingly tied by hand.

The discussion itself was a  little less upbeat. It tended to underscore the fact, inadvertently, that a great divide separates those who are with a publisher from those who are not. Well, how could it be otherwise, when the panelists involved work for or are represented by major publishers, while most, if not all, of the folks in the audience (I suspect) are not with a publisher—at least not one with a marketing budget.

Throughout the talk I was longing to get my hands on a copy of the new print issue of Paper Darts. I could see it sitting on the counter just behind the panelists.

My one quibble with the panelists came early. I believe it’s high time to desist, once and for all, from saying that “the book is dying.” There is no need even to say, “The printed book is in decline.” It’s market share is in decline, without question. But the very appearance of that term, “market share,” jangles oddly in a room of book-loving women and men.

Film didn’t kill theater, and TV didn’t kill film. Radio didn’t kill live music, and the H-bomb didn’t kill the standing army. Books will always be around. And the Paper Darts crowd is showing us how they can be made more beautiful, and more fun.

Half-way through the program, I headed out into the night—but it wasn’t night! The summer solstice is right around the corner, and the terrace of Pat’s Tap (right next door) was jammed with hipsters. Everybody drinking beer, gabbing as if there were no tomorrow.

I had been reading some poems by one of the panelists, Matt Rasmussen, as I waited for the event to start. Perhaps I should say “skimming” some poems. Suicides, deer hunting, North Woods stuff. A shallow overview of a powerful collection, to be sure. 

But as I returned to the freeway heading north, I was wondering who will describe for me the glitter on a cityscape just before sunset, bristling with intelligence and urban energy and a clear blue sky overhead?

Who is the Jorge Guillén of our day?

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