I learned about the Rosicrucians after my girlfriend visited the grounds in the hills of Oceanside, CA, in December. The eeriness of the place struck us: it seemed abandoned, but one felt eyes peering from the dilapidated buildings. Although there is housing for the needy, I saw almost no people and cars while photographing the temple grounds from December to March.
I tried to capture these feeling of Kafkaesque unease, and initially planned to structure the essay that way, but that wouldn’t have been true to how I came to feel about the place. I find solace there when I need to get away, and it has been giving and comforting. It has become a silent friend, an oasis brimming with poems and nuanced gestures.
These 12 pictures were intended at first to only be in color for the sake of uniformity, but that would have sharply limited my choices: I usually use black-and-white film. They were taken with 35mm- and medium-format cameras.
This is the first in a series of photo essays.
It started as a lark: go to the swap meet in Oceanside, California, just to check it out and maybe find some cheap cameras. I had told a good friend about a project involving an alternate take on downtown Oceanside, and she suggested a narrower focus. The project became a reality after a few trips. Doing a maquette for publishers is hundreds of photos and edits away, but the pictures so far have kept me coming back. There is a social aspect to it: most of the vendors are Mexican, and there’s a high level of distrust of cameras in what is essentially a microcosm of the immigrant world. That hasn’t deterred me so far, despite the angry looks (I’ve been confronted several times by people asking why the hell I’m taking pictures), though I’ve settled on a cheap film camera that won’t be a big loss if smashed. I also like the graininess of the images, all of which will be high-contrast black-and-white.
I haven’t posted in months: I’ve been busy with correspondence and, recently, new and old photo projects. Photography is an integral part of my artistic career: I started shooting in my boyhood with a Polaroid camera. Before I put aside “Urban Poems & Other Explorations” (a series of urbanscapes in California) eight years ago, I experimented with both digital and film, especially toy cameras such as the Holga and Diana. I resumed film, usually shooting with a Leica M5 and Zeiss Contaflex, and took up medium format, which has been the most rewarding: I save it for my most ambitious shots, though I also plan to shoot with a 4 X5 Graphlex. I also shoot digital, too, but it won’t replace my love of film and all things analog. If you would like to see more pictures, search Edwin Feliu at Flickr.
I had to wait months to relish this one: the drawband snapped during shipping, and it lay idle as a wounded bear for months. My handyman fashioned one out of twine. The repair was complicated, and involved drilling a new hole for the twine in the drum. After two days, my friend got it going. I was ecstatic: it was the first time I typed with it.
It’s a gorgeous East German machine, and the touch is exceedingly responsive. The keystrokes are silky, inviting a crisp, soft touch. The rimmed glass-topped keys are alluring and spaciously arranged. The pica typeface is neat and has character. I’m sometimes put off by type that is too tidy, too upstanding. Then again, there are instances in which one wants that, such as when typing a final draft.
The biggest surprise was the condition of the platen and feed rollers: both are in excellent shape, and there are barely any marks on the backup sheet. That makes me suspect they were replaced, since most prewar machines have exceedingly hard platens and misshapen rollers. There’s also an overflow of rubber on the left platen ring, which may confirm my hunch.
Note: The poem above is one of a series of cut-ups on authors.
While compiling my last collection, The Elastic Dome, I began a series of poems titled “The Radio Odes” using various cut-up techniques. Some of those surrealist works were included in the book. They were composed by arranging excerpts from feature shows and news reports from a popular broadcasting station. I wrote down the snippets that struck me, rearranged and tweaked them, and added a few lines of my own. Some turned out well; others didn’t pass muster.
I’m turning to cut-ups again, and plan a collection further on. Some are traditional, but the majority have my own spin. My source material at the moment is radio, newspapers, magazines, journal entries and excerpts from correspondence. The ones pictured were mined from a torn photocopied letter, a character sketch and a copy of Mark Twain’s On the Decay of the Art of Lying.
The Third Mind is the title of an out-of-print book by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin. It features cut-ups, popularized by Burroughs and Gysin in the ’60s.
This one gave me a hell of a time. The carriage kept sticking halfway, though sometimes it only stalled, piling on letters. I oiled it, cleaned it, shook it (small pieces of rubber came out), pried it with a screwdriver and damn nearly slammed it against the wall. It frustrated me for three weeks.
And then I noticed the frame was loose. I also noticed the carriage wouldn’t advance at all when it was on a typewriter pad. However, it moved when on a flat surface. I put in washers and tightened the front bottom nuts, and now it does quite well. It still hiccups now and then, but I hope that improves with continued use. It’s a beautiful machine, and the pica typeface has lots of character.
Publishing The Elastic Dome, my new poetry collection, was anticlimactic. I got home late in the evening, exhausted: no feelings of exuberance and triumph. I drank merlot, wrote to a friend, and listened to records of Dylan Thomas reading his poetry. In hindsight, that seems fitting: writing is a solitary craft. I also knew there was a lot of work ahead marketing the book. But there was satisfaction in finally putting it behind me.
My last collection, Postcards from the Tattooed Man’s Chest, was published in 2007, and 10 years later I managed this one. The Elastic Dome didn’t take long to compile, though it underwent numerous revisions. I wrote 70 poems poems in six months; only 36 were chosen. It was a furious sprint, and there was an urgency to it. I think that’s partly because I began it shortly after dad died, and working on it helped me pull through, at least temporarily. But it’s not a book about grief: it’s about nothing in particular and everything of importance. I would say the underlying theme is anxiety, and that seems appropriate in an age of anxiety.
I’m still not in a celebratory mood: I feel relief, more than anything. It’s well documented that many artists undergo a sort of depression after completing a project. I don’t feel that yet. Instead, I moved on to other projects: another poetry collection due next year, titled Handlining Telegraphs; a play; a collaboration on rengas (linked verse); and work on my first novel, The Art of Spooks.
In the end, sales aren’t important to most poets: the demand for poetry is slim, and sales are often anemic. What has more value is getting a book in the right hands, someone who may enjoy a poem or two and remember my voice. To quote Dylan Thomas :
“When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labor by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.”
The print edition of my new poetry collection, The Elastic Dome, is now available from Amazon, along with the Kindle edition. Those who pre-ordered should expect copies within two weeks.
All the poems were typewritten, and several talk about typewriters and the writing life. The book features 38 poems. Seventy were written in a six-month period, and I chose what I consider the best. Several were published in national reviews.
My goal for this edition is to have 50 or more downloads, and at least 50 more for the print edition. The average chapbook sells 50 copies, so that would be an overwhelming success. However, I’m offering free downloads through Monday in an effort to get it into as many hands as possible. If you read it and have thoughts to share, please leave a review in Amazon.
Edwin Feliu is an author, journalist and artist. He studied and taught in Rome, Italy, where he collaborated with other artists and was mentored by Irish poet Desmond O’Grady. His poetry and prose have been published nationally and abroad. He was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and lives in San Diego.
A beast. The return lever is among the beefiest I’ve seen. The DT33, which has a decimal tabulator, exudes brute strength: Norbert Schwarz, an authority on Alpinas, points out that they are “small office machines.” Even my beloved Olympia SM3 feels like a toy compared to this DT33. The platen is rock hard, which was a bit off-putting at first, but two backup sheets improved the type. I’ve noticed that my German portables of this time period have unusually hard platens.
An acquaintance remarked that it looks like a Buick, which, judging by his tone, wasn’t a compliment. I find it a beautiful machine, and think it has a distinct flair. I like its rounded features and turret-like cover. The keys are spacious, though not outsized, and it’s easy to settle into a good clip.
Will Davis (willdavis.org) notes an important feature: “One notable feature of Alpina machines is that, while they employ carriage shift, only the platen actually moves when the shift keys are depressed. This makes shifting rather easy considering the size and weight of these machines —- these are among the very biggest and heaviest portables in the post-1958 enlarged overall size.”
It’s a portable that feels like an upright.