Earlier this year, I saw on a friend’s desk an unusual book. It had a rather simple board cover—type, but no image—but it had four spines, two on one side and two on the other. It was like a dos-à-dos book, but doubled. And each of the bindings was covered in a bright vinyl that made me think of the interior upholstery of 1960s Ford Galaxies. I’ve seen dos-à-dos books before, but nothing like this.
I borrowed the book.
After attaching a lobster bib to catch my drool, I cracked it and discovered, to my delight, that this four-spined book was not simply a bauble from the binder. The four spines announce the structure of the book, which is divided into four sections. There is a delicious symmetry to the sections, which appear to have equal weight and size. The bindings turn each section into a kind of chapbook, and your reading is focused: you don’t flip to the back of the book or flip back and forth a lot, because each section is physically isolated, while being attached.
This is brilliant moment. So often a book’s design seems to disappear, as if the physical form of the book and the informational form were independent of one another. They often are, I suppose. But here is a book where there is a direct and necessary relationship between the book, the codex (or codices), and the book’s idea of itself (or is it the other way around?).
Falck demonstrates the book’s operation in this video:
Much to my dismay, the book’s first printing was sold out, but after talking over the summer the author was kind enough to sell me one directly. (The second printing is now for sale.)
And you need one of these. Everyone does. Which is why I asked Noah if he’d answer a few questions by e-mail, so I could introduce him and this book to you.
Here’s what we wrote to each other.
JAY: How would you describe your poems? Or how would you describe yourself as a poet?
NF: My poems project the nonsense of the everyday. They have basketballs in them, cult figures of the 1970s, denim, sex, airplanes, and rain. Probably too much rain.
I am an accessible poet. At least I like to think of myself as accessible. Open to the unwashed masses, you know. Accessible, not in the mold of Billy Collins, but in the sense of the Heimlich Maneuver. I mean, everyone knows about the Heimlich Maneuver, but how many times have you seen it in action. I want my poems to act as a sort of Heimlich Maneuver. Meaning, I want readers to kind of laugh at the apparent awkwardness, but also experience a sense of earnestness.
JAY: There are over forty poems in this book, and they’ve previously been published in a long list of journals that includes Anti-, Barn Owl Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Forklift Ohio, Greensboro Review, Pank, Pinch, and so forth—a broad list. How do you choose which journals you send work to? Do your choices have anything to do with how you think about your work or your poems?
NF: I send my poems to journals that have published and continue to publish work that truly moves me. Journals that makes my beard hair hurt with joy. That has always been the case. I don’t think where I decide to send my poems has any effect on the work itself. However, I am acutely aware of the literary cliques and mfa brotherhoods that overshadow how some journals operate. I try not to let these social orders effect where I send my work.
JAY: Some of the poems in Snowmen also appeared in your chapbook, Measuring Tape For the Midwest. Did the chapbook prefigure Snowmen in any way? Was creating Measuring Tape good preparation for putting Snowmen together?
NF: Actually, Measuring Tape would never have existed without Snowmen. Back in ‘08, I began sending out early forms of Snowmen to a few contests. One of the contests was Pavement Saw’s Transcontinental Book Prize. The editor, David Baratier, contacted me and told me I didn’t win, but he enjoyed my work enough that he wanted to assemble a chapbook out of a selection of poems from Snowmen. I said yes, and those selected poems became Measuring Tape.
JAY: How did you arrive at the four-section arrangement?
NF: Originally, the manuscript had three sections, but the editors at BatCat decided to rearrange the manuscript into four sections after a fair amount of dialogue. The editing process was a pleasure given the talent and attentiveness of the student poets at BatCat.
JAY: How did you find BatCat Press? Was it their idea or your idea to bind the book this way, giving each section its own spine?
NF: I found BatCat when I was researching small presses that held open reading periods that weren’t charging a $25 reading fee. The binding and book artistry of Snowmen was all BatCat. Deanna Mulye, the faculty advisor, is some kind of binding wizard. Every one of the books they bring to life has its own unique identity.
If that’s not enough for you, check out this great conversation between Noah and Nick Sturm.
Everyone wants one of these, I know. (How’s that for a blurb?) And I do mean to share my enthusiasm for this book with you. I want to give it to you, like an ice cream cone on the street in the middle of a rapidly warming day. I want you to feel the cloud of a snowman on your tongue. But mostly I want you to read these poems and be double-taken by them.
And I want to offer this to you, too, as an example of the vicissitudes and the justifications of enthusiasm: who cares what gets you to read a book as long as it keeps you reading and finally feels worth the time?