Getting the word out has always been an integral part of the forward motion of society, be it something as serious as revolutionary urgings or as lighthearted as a bit of entertaining literature. There are so many ways to do this, but none may be so versatile, creative, and visually pleasing as the zine.
Zines, a moniker short for magazine or fanzine, are independently run publications that date back as far as Thomas Paine – have you ever heard of a little thing called “Common Sense?” They’re produced on a small scale, generally by use of photocopier, printing press, or even just paper and pen.
Something so tangible may seem like a novelty thing (or a dying one, depending on who you talk to) in an age where the majority of information is literally right at our fingertips in the form of computers and touchscreen gadgets, but there is still a movement of creatives who are keeping zines going strong, and quite a few of them will gather in Scranton this weekend for the fourth annual Zine Fest.
In a way, this bevy of technological information may actually help spark a wave of zinesters from younger generations.
“There’s a huge hands-on movement that’s happening, with things like Etsy and Pinterest,” Zine Fest organizer Jess Meoni said. “People are trying to bridge the gap between the online world and the handmade world.
“It has to do with the tangibility factor, of course – people like to hold things. But it also has to do with being able to say, ‘Wow, I made this and people are interested in it and it didn’t take just two seconds to do.’”
Meoni said it’s also about people feeling “tethered” to technology and what they can do to break away from that.
“I look at my brother, who’s about the age I was when I started making my own zine; he’ll be turning 18 this summer. He grew up with a cell phone in his hand and I totally didn’t; he’s constantly on Snapchat and all these things. People always feel tethered. They don’t really experience things any more. They are always on their phones, losing that human interaction, that human connection.
“I think there’s a division of kids who are never going to try it, and then there are kids who are influenced by things like Pinterest who will try it. I’m interested to see a younger crowd getting into this.”
This area has seemingly always been supportive of zines, tracing back to the 1990s.
“It’s a fascinating tidbit of information, but there was actually a place on Adams Avenue in Scranton, Prufrock’s, that was one of the first Internet cafés in the United States in the early ‘90s,” Meoni said, “and it was also a zine library.”
Every year the event grows, and this year Meoni was just stunned by who sought out a spot on the floor.
“I’ve got a guy from Chicago coming, a girl from Ohio,” she listed. “It’s great that these people want to be a part of this. Every single year our lineup gets more diverse.”
The fest, while centered on zines, does not solely include them. Poetry readings have always played a role, as well as vendors selling different wares, and this year yet another realm of art is becoming involved – music.
“We’re adding in a set of acoustic acts,” Meoni said. “We want to collect a ton of different artistic things for people to experience in one place.”
FROM WRITTEN TO SPOKEN
One of the elements of the Scranton Zine Fest that’s been around since its inception is the poetry reading portion.
“Poets have always been a part of the zine movement,” Meoni said. “Poets bridged the gap in the beat poetry era in the ‘50s with Allen Ginsberg. They started to produce their own chapbooks. The zine movement picked up with that, grew into this psychedelic movement when the ‘60s hit, and then poets began to use them as a way to get out their poems.”
Poets Brian Fanelli, Alexis Belluzzi, David Bauman, and Rachael Goetzke will take the stage at 2 p.m. this year to read their works. Here is a look at those who take it from page to podium, inciting a range of emotions with a seemingly simple grouping of lines that actually unfold to reveal layer upon layer of meaning.
He loves his hometown, and he’s certainly not afraid to show it.
Scranton is one of the main things Fanelli focuses on through his works, though he said family and music also have a stronghold in many a poem.
“I refer to everything from (Bruce) Springsteen to The Clash to Bob Dylan and Run-D.M.C.,” the full-time English teacher at Lackawanna College said. “I grew up listening to music and collecting records.”
Fanelli, who has read at Zine Fest since the beginning, has been published by the Los Angeles Times, World Literature Today, Blue Collar Review, Oklahoma Review, and Poetry Quarterly, among several other publications. He is the author of the chapbook “Front Man” and the full-length collection “All That Remains.”
“A lot of those poems reference specific neighborhoods in Scranton, being about my family and growing up as a working class kid in the area,” Fanelli said of “Remains.”
Even after living in Philadelphia for eight years, his love for his hometown never waned.
“It’s a good, tightknit community of people,” he said. “There’s a tremendous and growing art and literary scene here, and it gets bigger and bigger, which is why I’ve chosen to stay and work here. There’s a lot of young people willing to do things and put things on here, like Zine Fest.”
Fanelli said the poetry community has grown smaller over the years, but that’s in no way indicative of poetry as an art form going away.
“Poetry is always going to be around. It was an oral culture before it was a written one, going back to early languages. People don’t read poetry as much, especially in the U.S. I think poetry, like any good literature, requires concentration that – and I feel awful for saying this – but that we don’t have any more as Americans. We’re not reading as much in general, and though poetry is an art form that’s really compact and concise, it’s also something that’s a bit demanding of one’s attention. Thankfully, in this area, we do have a tremendously strong literary community in the poetry world.”
And for those that are willing to pay attention, it pays off.
“I’ve noticed through teaching that once you do get people to read it, they tend to enjoy it and really get into it. You’ve just got to get over that initial poetry fear, which I hope we do for people at Zine Fest.”
For Goetzke, the process is random.
“It’s usually with colored pens on a margin of a receipt somewhere, and then I put it all together later,” she said of her poetry writing process, which most often captures subjects dealing with nature and music.
Goetzke got into poetry at a very young age.
“I remember hearing that a classmate of mine’s dad was a poet. I was 7, and I was in such awe of him and I just remember thinking, ‘Oh, he’s a poet!’” she recalled, switching to a voice laced with swooning and longing that one might use to talk of their favorite boy band during their teenage years.
Words infiltrate every aspect of Goetzke’s life. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University and teaches English and writing courses throughout Luzerne and Schuylkill counties. She is the managing editor of the Osterhout Free Library’s literary magazine “Word Fountain” and has been published in Tiny Booklets, Ripasso, and The Writing Disorder.
Her love of language and the effect it can have on people has made her gravitate toward poetry.
“There are obviously long poems, but it’s amazing when you can take a very short piece and really grab someone’s attention with it.”
“I get very hung up on sound,” she said of the way she writes. “I’m such a word lover and a music lover; a lot of times it’s the way something will sound that affects my word choices.”
Goetzke acknowledged that people don’t read poems quite as much, but through her work she’s doing her part to get people involved.
“I try to get children into poetry. A lot of times I use the humor and funny stuff to do that, and I think that’s always a great way to get someone into this form of art.”
He’s got Mary Oliver and Richard Blanco in his bathroom, William Stafford on his coffee table, and Billy Collins and Frank O’Hara are just a glimpse of what adorns his bookshelf.
Bauman surrounds himself with those that inspire him, a poet whose works have been printed in publications like T(OUR), The Blue Hour Magazine, and Word Fountain and whose awards include the Savage Poetry Prize from Bloomsburg University and the Academy of American Poets. All this despite the fact that, as he jokingly proclaimed, he was “absolutely terrible” at poetry when he began.
“I look at my teenage son and I’m amazed at the things he writes now compared to the crap that I wrote,” he noted with a laugh. “I didn’t write my first good poem until I was in college.”
It was then that Bauman began to play around with form and go with the flow of ideas.
“The fun of it for me is finding a line you like or some idea that comes to you, about anything random, and just following it and seeing where it goes,” he said. “It’s a lot more fun to me than the sing-song rhymes I wrote when I was younger.”
Bauman said he likes to play with sounds, and not necessarily in the way a reader might expect.
“It’s not rhymes at the end of lines, but a lot of times I’ll play with sounds between lines. There will be rhyming words, but they won’t be maybe where you expect them.”
The poet recently completed work on his chapbook, “The School Bus Poems,” a collection that started naturally.
“I went back and looked at a lot of the work I had been writing, and there was a theme that kept coming up, childhood memories, and a couple had that big yellow and black machine in them,” he said. “I ended up writing a few more on purpose and digging up some things that were written about my own sons at that age, then weaved them all together.”
Bauman said he’s got plenty in his arsenal and could produce chapbooks that revolve around relationships or nature due to his lifestyle as an avid birdwatcher, backpacker, and hiker.
Bauman’s excited to be a first-time reader at Zine Fest, as he’s a strong believer in self-publication. He said there are plenty of publications out there looking for great poetry and sometimes very specific works, but it’s nice to know that writers these days don’t necessarily have to go that route.
“It’s not as important for them to go through that struggle, to research where your poems would fit and keep submitting. We’re willing to do what Walt Whitman did, which is just publish it himself. A lot of people want to get their own words out, and you have a lot of creative freedom and license to do that.”
She’s short on patience, but it’s what helped her become the poet she is today.
“I don’t necessarily have the kind of personality where I have a lot of patience to write a novel or a chronological tale, so for me, having a small space to really try and convey or universalize something is very attractive,” Belluzzi said. “It all stems from the idea that you have to do a lot in that little space, be very concise with your speech and your language.”
Belluzzi became interested in poetry as a teenager and has since graduated from Susquehanna University with a B.A. in Creative Writing and from Hollins University with an M.F.A. She was awarded the Andrew James Purdy Fiction Prize in 2006 for her short story “Cicadas,” and her chapbook, “Practicing Distance,” was released in 2006.
“It had a lot to do with isolation and being an outsider looking in,” she said of “Practicing,” “and the idea of you don’t choose your family, and oftentimes we have family difficulties, things that rise and you have to deal with that. You can’t just walk away from your family; you have to find a way to sort through whatever issues arise, and it’s about how you deal with feeling like the outsider with people who are your own blood and feeling distant from them, while at the same time loving them. You almost have to practice how to be present and distant with them at the same time.
“It’s dark, but I hope people will emerge from it with a hope, a light at the end of the tunnel. There are some rough spots, dark and macabre areas, anxiety, depression, angst. At the same time, there’s a snarky humor to balance it out. I’d say, to me, I wrote a dark comedy, just about my life.”
Much of her poetry is based off personal life experience, and she called herself a “narrative, lyrical hybrid.”
“I don’t write very often in formal verse or meter,” she said. “I do like to use a lot of alliteration, internal rhyme, and a certain sound across the poem to give it a certain rhythm. I don’t constrain myself.”
Shifts at the Dollar Tree
By Brian Fanelli
At 16 I worked at the Dollar Tree,
buttoned up Polos to hide frayed
Clash and Dead Kennedys T-shirts,
what I wore on weekends at Café Roach,
where slam pits swelled and tattooed bodies
crashed against each other
until they dripped with sweat and stunk of booze.
At 16 I assured customers,
Yes, that really costs a dollar,
and on breaks thieved Pepsis and Snickers
while Randy the manager was locked
in his office, counting time sheets,
counting years he’s been there.
At 16 I scribbled anti-capitalist
manifestos while Randy sat on boxes
in the stock room and told me,
Don’t end up here forever, kid,
waving his hand in the air the way my dad did
whenever he wanted to make a point,
and when I looked up, I saw how Randy’s hair receded,
how he squinted to read labels, even with glasses,
how he frequently rubbed his shoulders and back
the way my dad did after work,
how he had drum sticks tattooed on his left wrist,
but never spoke of his band, just that he jammed
in high school. He must have gone to places like Café Roach,
and maybe pounded the snare in a band, reliving such days
every time he air drummed in his office or the break room,
thinking no one was watching.
By Rachael Goetzke
For my mother
When I think on your love
Your outstretched hands
Become the branches of an old oak
Held sacred from holding years
An image guarded in a locket
Like a clenched fist inside a pocket
Nothing we endured was done with ease
Touched my face
Like the warm summer breeze
And opened my arms to stand
Proud among the trees
By David Bauman
You live in a land where the valleys know
their names, where the names recede
down gravel roads where drivers rarely go.
While even locals follow numbered signs,
and travelers count the exits, you cross
Big Valley, descend Black Mountain Pass.
You say them like the names of friends,
so on the Susquehanna, or slowly
hiking up Blue Hill, I think of you.
It was in your nature, even years after,
to remember the name of the boy that day.
How many names? How many days
had you set aside the clipboard, reach
to hold a helpless hand as you gave the news, described again that merciless disease?
You stared out at River Road as you told me
that his mother cried; that his eyes were blue;
that his little sister’s name was Hope.
By Alexis Belluzzi
I’d examined the photograph hanging
above our master bathroom’s toilet.
The contrast of black and white
gave depth to the desert landscape.
I wanted you to take me West. Help me escape
where the sky slapped itself down
like a blue slab onto flat earth,
or where mountains crowded the horizon.
You’d driven cross-country four times.
Saw more of the states than I could imagine,
and I envied you. Take me, I’d begged.
Intrigued, you smiled while I pulled
a map down from the closet’s shelf.
I unfolded it like a quilt across our bed,
highlighting routes that headed West.
I didn’t care about the price of gas,
and laughed when you worried
that our baby might forget us.
Please. We could leave her with your mother.
Once you agreed, I spent fifteen dollars
to get feathers in my hair. I dreamed
of being Cherokee. Of meeting Anasazi
at Mesa Verde, channeling energy
from the Four Corners. I wanted to buy
jute-soled shoes because rubber soles,
I learned, disconnect us from the Earth.
My head buzzed with excitement,
and soon you picked up your old
Epiphone, plucking and fumbling
at melodies your fingers had forgotten.
We decided on a ‘campfire playlist’—
songs you’d learn for the trip.
I joined you in singing hits by Brandi Carlisle,
Jeff Buckley, and Ryan Bingham.
July, you’d said, when the wildflowers bloom.
I yearned to be like you, an old soul,
full of cynicism and free from naïveté.
I thought of the man I never met:
his drugs and wanderlust, blond ponytail
and rough beard. That life’s in a box, you’d said.
Pictures, letters, and fragments kept
contained neatly in cardboard, smelling
of incense and cigarettes; an elegy.