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20 January 2010

TSky Investigates: FOURSQUARE Editions

FOURSQUARE Editions, a branch of Outside Voices Press, is a literary publication printed on single, 8"x8" sheet which folds up to 4"x4"and is housed in a screen printed and embroidered fabric sleeve. Each issue contains four poems by women writers and one image by a woman artist. Jessica Smith, editor of FOURSQUARE Editions, was kind enough to talk about how and why this beautiful periodical was created.

What was your inspiration for FOURSQUARE's design, size, sleeves, etc?

Jessica: I wanted to incorporate screen printed fabric that hadn't been mass-produced into the design of a periodical dedicated to bringing together women from various artistic backgrounds (visual art, fabric design, poetry). I also wanted to pay homage to the crafts of sewing and embroidery which have been considered women's arts, "folk arts," "cottage industries,"--that is, of lesser value than whatever "men's arts" might be.

When FOURSQUARE was brewing, I was living at home, having taken a semester off of my PhD program, and was in the realm of fabric, embroidery, and the handmade. My parents both work or have worked in the clothing industry. My dad sells uniforms and my mom used to make children's clothes, and I wanted to involve my parents in the project. I also wanted to make use of my dad's huge embroidery machine, which is what makes the embroidered "FOURSQUARE" on the front of the sleeves.

The folded interior of FOURSQUARE grew out of discussions with my friend Maureen Thorson of Big Game Books, who makes "tinysides." These small chapbooks are usually under 3"x5" in size and are made from a single sheet, or broadside, folded to make multiple pages and bound along one side. To make poetry objects small and folded was kind of a Mid-Atlantic zeitgeist at the time, although Maureen's design for tinysides is more advanced than mine for FOURSQUARE. She takes multiple page sizes into account and must fold accordingly, where I make authors conform to a particular size requirement. The way the poems are arranged and which poems are chosen to work together in an issue, aims to influence the way the poems are read. There is an interplay that is more obvious than in a magazine where the authors' works are separated by pages.

What is the poetic and art aesthetic of FOURSQUARE?

Jessica: The idea was to bring together female artists and poets, with an emphasis on ones that were emerging and/or visual. I wanted to show my female poet friends, especially the visual poets, what my female artist friends were doing, and vice-versa. I think more collaboration between poets and artists would be fruitful-- would make "visual poetry" more informed, would provide more interesting words in visual art that uses them.

FOURSQUARE is a women's magazine. It is edited, made, and populated by women. In its pages I wanted to create a safe place for women to "play." There has been much discussion about gender equality in poetry and especially with regard to editorial policies. When I edited the magazine (name) before FOURSQUARE, it was hard to get women to "submit." I hoped that if I created a publication that was safe space for women, they would be more likely to send me poetry. I think it worked, but not in the way I expected. I expected to solicit submissions, when what has actually happened is that people who are in FOURSQUARE share their extra copies with friends, who then submit, or encourage their friends to submit. It has become more like a small network than a free-for-all of blind submissions.

Several authors have appeared in Tarpaulin Sky publications as well as in FOURSQUARE-- Jenny Boully (FOURSQUARE 1.2), Brenda Iijima (1.2 and Special Edition), Juliana Spahr (1.2), Jane Sprague (1.6), Amy King (1.8), Jen Tynes (1.11), Ada Limon (2.8), and Michelle Naka Pierce (3.1). What about these authors' work speaks to you as an editor, reader, writer?

Jessica: To make a broad generalization, what I like is that many of these poets mix genres. I am a poet who enjoys exploring the interrelationship of nacheinander and nebeneinander, and appreciate other poets who mix language and visual art like Brenda Iijima and Michelle Naka Pierce do, or poetry and the essay, like Jenny Boully and Juliana Spahr do. Although I support, encourage, and admire experimentation, I do not like experimentation for its own sake. Each of these poets seems to cross formal boundaries because the poetry's content requires it.

To concentrate on Boully's [one love affair]* for a moment, I enjoy the blend of journalistic self-expression and self-evaluation, academic references, prose poetry and essay-like prose (as the best essays are often "poetic"); the Wallace-esque hypertextuality of reading the text and its endnotes, the Duras-like sensuality of language, and the production values of the book itself.

FOURSQUARE is a home for short poems, do short poems speak to you differently than longer poems do?

Jessica: Indeed. I have a short attention span and am a busy person. I want a poem to do something for me quickly. I am not good at "getting lost in a book." Instead, I like to think of a singular project or point that a poem is making. I like to dwell on such a point for a long time-- months, years--rather than spend months or years reading a book. I enjoy the life of the mind, but I like to be in control of it. When I'm reading, the author is in control of me--I have to pay attention to what s/he is saying and I have to physically be sitting in front of the book. I would rather be cut loose to think on my own. This is one reason that poetry appeals to me as a genre-- it is often shorter than novels or plays and I don't have to follow the plot so much as I have to think of the aesthetics and what is at stake in terms of form/content.

Although it may be small, FOURSQUARE sets out to accomplish a lot and does. Thoughtfully, it showcases the short poem, creates a safe space for women writers and artists to play, incorporates sewing and embroidery, utilizes fabric, and creates a dialogue between arts. The amount of time, thought and love that goes into FOURSQUARE is evident.

For more information on FOURSQUARE Editions visit: